Archive for Korean Politics

“Decisive” Evidence Implicates North Korea in Cheonan Sinking

As news reports suggest that an international investigation will soon announce that North Korea torpedoed the Cheonan, South Korean military sources are leaking information that, if true, seems reasonably conclusive:

“In a search using fishing trawlers, we recently discovered pieces of debris that are believed to have come from the propeller of the torpedo that attacked the Cheonan,” a high-ranking government source said Monday. “Analysis of the debris shows it may have originated from China or a former Eastern-bloc country like the former Soviet Union.” [Chosun Ilbo]

Investigators are now comparing these exemplars to a North Korean training torpedo they recovered several years ago. Explosive traces also implicate North Korea.

According to the source, traces of RDX and TNT were discovered on the sheared section of the ship and metal debris from the site. An analysis of the explosives showed that the mixture matches those used in countries of the former communist bloc, such as Russia, China and North Korea.

“While RDX’s composition is similar worldwide, TNT mixtures differ from those used in the United States and England and others used in the former communist bloc,” he said. While South Korean weapons use American-style TNT, North Korea manufactures arms by the Chinese and former Soviet models. “By analyzing the mixtures of TNT, a crucial ingredient of a torpedo, we can conclude the builder,” he said. [Joongang Ilbo]

John Feffer was not available for comment.

“The analysis of metal pieces and traces of explosive recovered from the Cheonan and the seabed led us to secure decisive evidence that there was a North Korean torpedo attack,” Yonhap news agency quoted a military source as saying. [AFP]

Decisive — unless, of course, you have a vested interest in denying it. Say, for example, that the investigation is suggesting that your country may have manufactured the torpedo that your client state used to sink the ship. What do you do now? Feign anger or question the evidence? If you’re China, the answer appears to be “both:”

Chinese Ambassador to Seoul Zhang Xinsen on Monday downplayed evidence that North Korea was behind the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan on March 26. “Findings revealed so far seem to show that there is no solid evidence for who did it,” Democratic Party Campaign Committee spokeswoman Kim Yoo-jung quoted Zhang as saying in a meeting with DP chairman Chung Se-kyun. [Chosun Ilbo]

Yet simultaneously, and just as I predicted, the official Chinese media have been directed to express a vague sense of irritation at North Korea:

“It must be borne in mind by North Korea that it is playing a dangerous game with Northeast Asian powers while relying on its considerably weak national strength,” said the Global Times in Thursday’s opinion section. [….]

“North Korea is dancing haphazardly along the nuclear tightrope, fraying the nerves of every world power. It is apparently proud, believing that it has played a dominant role,” the Global Times said. “But North Korea fails to realize that the most dangerous role is the one the country itself is playing.” [Yonhap]

I don’t doubt that the Chinese probably think the sinking of the Cheonan was out of bounds, dangerous, and an embarrassment. Privately, they may be irritated with the North Koreans, although they don’t show many signs of it publicly. And the fact that they’ve directed their mouthpieces to express irritation is probative of nothing other than their recognition that their wildly inappropriate invitation of Kim Jong Il to China, a week after the Cheonan dead were buried, has become a big P.R. problem for them in South Korean and Washington. The real question, of course, is what this really means in practice for China’s material support for Kim Jong Il’s regime. My prediction is that until the continuation of Kim Jong Il’s misrule represents a security threat to China, it will mean nothing.

United in denial with the Chinese are their new best pals in the Democratic Party, who continue to behave like paragons of what a responsible loyal opposition ought to be, namely by announcing that they’ll refuse to accept the results of the investigation without having even seen the evidence:

The Democratic, Democratic Labor, Creative Korea and People’s Participation parties joined the conference along with the leaders of 13 religious and civic groups.

In a joint statement, they challenged the probe’s veracity and criticized the government for keeping key evidence secret, including survivors’ testimonies and military communication logs from the time of the sinking. “No matter what the probe’s outcome is,” the liberals said, “the public will have to doubt its validity.

“A hasty conclusion without clear evidence and international recognition will only bring about distrust and criticism at home and abroad,” they continued, demanding raw evidence from the probe be disclosed with its conclusions.

Democratic Party Chairman Chung Sye-kyun said, “I am not convinced that there’s a need for the investigation to announce its conclusion and the president to have a special press conference ahead of the local elections. I will not allow the Cheonan’s sinking to be politicized. [Joongang Ilbo]

… he said, without intentional irony. Similarly, in the Cheonan investigation itself, the opposition nominee to the investigation has demonstrated that spirit of patriotic teamwork that allows political parties within a democracy to set aside their partisan differences and close ranks with their countrymen during a national crisis:

Won said the ministry asked parliament to replace one opposition-designated member, Shin Sang-chul, accusing him of spreading groundless rumors without participating in the probe. Shin, who operates a Web site carrying columns and commentaries on political issues, has claimed that the ship ran aground and sank.

Shin “hurt the image of the joint investigation team by putting forward his personal opinions” before an official conclusion is made, Won said. “He has not been working as an investigator after attending only one meeting.” Shin was not immediately available for comment. [Yonhap]

Here’s hoping that South Korean voters give the South Korean left the electoral punishment it has so justly earned through its recent behavior.

For its part, the South Korean government now turns to the question of its many citizens who are still in North Korea (and, it would seem, stuck in a bygone and failed experiment called “Sunshine”). It is now issuing a travel advisory that seems aimed at getting its every potential hostage out of the North before the South announces the results of the investigation.

Mad Cow Revisionism


The Hankyoreh reacts
to comments by President Lee by reinventing the Mad Cow riots of 2008:

During a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, President Lee said, “It has been two years since the candlelight vigil demonstrations and although many suppositions proved untrue, not one of those intellectuals or medical sector figures who participated back then has engaged in any reflection. The president also said, “Without reflection, there is no development of society. He added, “I would like to say that it is positive that one daily newspaper reevaluated this in the form of a focused feature piece to mark the second anniversary.

Let me state my agreement with the truth of the matter Lee asserts while questioning whether it might have been wiser to let this dog sleep. That being said, I can scarcely add up all the layers of delusion in the Hanky’s response, but start with the one about how this really wasn’t about beef at all.

He also pledged to improve his communication with the people, reshuffle positions in the Cheong Wa Dae (the presidential office in South Korea or Blue House) and Cabinet, and abandon his plans for the Grand Korean Waterway. This was an admission by President Lee that the candlelight vigil demonstrations were not only about the dangers of mad cow disease from U.S. beef, but also an expression of negative popular sentiments regarding the one-sided governance and expediency tactics he showed early in his term and the appointments of wealthy Gangnam elites and Korea University, Somang Church and Youngnam region individuals, the so-called “Ko So Young,” to prominent positions.

So … the guy they voted for didn’t win, I take it. And then again, maybe it was about beef after all:

Ahn Jin-geol, director of the Public Welfare Hope Team for People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, said Tuesday, “It is brazen for President Lee to apologize twice for giving concerns to the people and even promise to carry out additional beef negotiations, and then turn around and tell the people they need to reflect. Ahn also said, “This proves that the president’s apologies back then were lies.

No, Lee apologized for his “handling” of the beef import issue, which isn’t the same as acknowledging that the public panic that caused the mass demonstrations had any scientific basis. In his first apology, he just about called the scare “unfounded” before concluding that the angry mob was in no mood to listen to any amount of objective, scientific information — much less his own assertions. While the specific reasons for Lee’s apology remain somewhat vague, the main reason seems to have been to appease the mob and politely request that they shut up and go home (eventually, after the most of them got tired of the protests and did). To an extent, Lee was also apologizing for mishandling the P.R. aspect — not doing enough to get accurate information to gullible people soon enough. I don’t think that Lee was apologizing for the terms of an FTA negotiated during the Roh Administration, nor was he apologizing for not implementing the minutiae of trade policy through a series of popular plebiscites before misinformed voters panicking over false reporting and irrational, unscientific rumors. At that point, Lee would have thrown the Wonder Girls into an active volcano to appease the mob and get them to put down their their pitchforks and torches bamboo poles and candles.

The Hanky also predicts a groundswell of Roh-stalgia, just weeks after South Korea buried its dead from the Cheonan. I suspect that there will be sympathy for Roh, the troubled human being, but I doubt there will be much nostalgia for Roh, the man who should never have been the President of the Republic of Korea, and whose policies have been thoroughly repudiated by events during and after his term. My hopes are actually rising that South Korea’s unrequited infatuation with its abusive North Korean cellmate is about over with. Is it possible that South Korea is growing up at last? I hope so. I’d be disturbed, and surprised, if the Hanky is right and I’m wrong.

Hankyoreh “Experts:” North Korea Sank the Cheonan, But It’s Still South Korea’s Fault

I expect the Hanky and its fellow travelers to be committed 24/7 tools of North Korea, but for God’s sake, people, your country is in mourning. Is this really the time?

People’s Solitary for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) General Secretary Kim Min-young offered his diagnosis of the situation, saying, “If the government had faithfully executed the existing agreement between North Korea and South Korea for the peaceful use of the waters near the Northern Limit Line in the West Sea, things would not have escalated into a confrontation scenario.

Implicitly, this is an agreement that the North Koreans did it, even as it argues that they did it because President Lee forced them to. What the “General Secretary” is really saying is that the responsibility for what he assumes to have been a deliberate attack lies with the South Korean government for protecting its territory rather than surrendering it. He is justifying a sneak attack just off the shores of an island North Korea explicitly ceded in the Korean War Armistice agreement. One could not make such an argument on the day South Korea buried 40 of its sailors without having lost sight of how the needless theft of their lives has profoundly aggrieved thousands of people who loved them, people who will spend the rest of their lives missing them.

Following the 2007 Inter-Korean Summit, late President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il made an agreement to establish a “˜special West Sea zone of peace and cooperation,’ including the establishment of joint fishing zones and peaceful waters and the construction of a special economic zone. But the Lee Myung-bak administration has effectively refused to respect or implement the October 4 2007 Summit Declaration that includes this agreement. Former Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun said, “They need to reconsider how to carry out policy for the stable management of the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

And what would any Hankyoreh editorial be without a choice quote from Cheong Wook-Sik, possibly Kim Jong Il’s most brazen South Korean apologist and stooge? The fact that the Hanky describes this marionette as an “expert” really tells you all you need to know about the Hanky’s more common tactic of citing “experts” without even telling you who they are:

Some experts expressed concern that the Lee government and the public are placing too much weight on “keeping the peace” by strengthening the alert against North Korea or building up military forces. Peace Network representative Cheong Wook-sik said, “If this incident simply leads South Korea to focus on simplifying its rules of engagement and beef up its aggression and forces, the situation of military confrontation between North Korea and South Korea could worsen as this combines with the North Korea’s response.

Got that? He’s worried about South Korea “beef[ing] up its aggression.”

I’ll let you read the rest on your own and decide for yourself if you can actually believe you’re reading this, much less reading it while the country is in mourning over the murder — yes, I said it — of 40 of its sailors.

How Will Chung Dong Young Answer a Truth and Reconciliation Committee?

After years of unproductive debate, the South Korean National Assembly’s Unification and Foreign Affairs Committee finally approved a bill on improving human rights conditions in North Korea last week, on a vote divided along party lines:

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) said the overall budget for its activities in 12 categories was cut by 5.38 percent on-year to 4.63 billion won (US$4 million) for the 2010 fiscal year. Funding for research into North Korean defectors and human rights conditions in the socialist state remained unchanged, however, at 331 million won, the independent commission said. The North Korea-related budget is far larger than 140 million won that the commission initially asked for, indicating that the government is putting an emphasis on the issues.

The North Korea budget will be used to fund local and overseas surveys of defectors from the North and human rights conditions there, as well as to host an international symposium and domestic forums, and to publish and purchase books. [Yonhap]

Yet the vigorous and outspoken South Korean press informs us that the idea that North Koreans ought to be able to read anything but the pablum spat out by the state’s propaganda mills is “controversial.” Got that? The South Koreans are having a vigorous debate about whether North Koreans also have an equally inalienable right to have vigorous debates. Equally controversial is the idea that South Korean humanitarian aid should be monitored as a safeguard against the regime stealing it from hungry kids and diverting it to the army by the trainload:

The tentatively-called “North Korean Human Rights Act” calls for, among other things, strictly regulating humanitarian aid with respect to delivery and distribution, making even the provision by private groups far more difficult than now. It also stipulates the establishment of a human rights foundation under the unification minister, which will likely hinder the ministry’s conduct of its foremost duty of improving inter-Korean relationships with a broader perspective.

Although the bill stresses the need for actively supporting private organizations engaged in promoting human rights in the North, critics point out these are the groups mainly involved in instigation and subversion activities by dropping anti-Pyongyang leaflets from balloons or planning organized defection.

Supporters of the bill may refute that mere criticisms and expressions of anger will be of little help to bringing about real changes. True, there will be clear limitations to sharply improving human rights situations without a fundamental change in their one-person rule and collective leadership.

But this is why it is more important to induce the reclusive regime to gradually change its system and join the rest of the world through ceaseless dialogue and the improvement of ties. [Korea Times]

You say these like they’re bad things.

When advancing this particular idea, the Times would do well to point out a single measurable accomplishment derived from the billions of dollars in unconditional aid to Kim Jong Il … that is, aside from financing Kim Jong Il’s acquisition of a bona fide nuclear weapons capability and a vastly improved missile arsenal to aim at Seoul. And the human rights policy pursued by men like Roh Moo Hyun and Chung Dong-Young was to say and do as little as possible to help North Koreans. Starving refugees were told to die in place, South Korea abstained from supporting even meaningless U.N. resolutions asking North Korea to moderate its mass murder, and the “quiet diplomacy” it claimed to be pursuing turned out to be a complete sham when revealed in practice.

Their own bankruptcy of ideas reveals the disgraceful cynicism of Roh and Chung’s political progeny. If we are to accept the legitimacy of retroactively purging and punishing collaboration with fascism — I don’t, but the South Korean political system has — this ought to be fine fodder for some Truth and Reconciliation Committee ten years hence. The Democratic Party’s view here is laid out by its mouthpiece, the collaborationist Hankyoreh:

The Democratic Party voiced strong opposition, saying it plans to take committee Chairman Park Jin to the National Assembly Ethics Committee for ignoring their objections. In its statement, the DP condemned the law, and criticized the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) for railroading the law through the committee. The DP is saying the law would not contribute to improvements in North Korean human rights, rather, they are saying it is an “Anti-North Korean Citizens Law,” and the North Korean government, who views the law as a threat to their government, could repress the actual human rights of North Koreans by strengthening its controls over them. The DP also says the law bans humanitarian aid to North Korea by strictly limiting humanitarian assistance and is a “New Right Support Bill” to support groups that send balloons and pamphlets to North Korea under the guise of promoting North Korean human rights.

DP Lawmaker Chung Dong-young said the current administration is setting as its departure point the Basic Agreement of 1991, signed during the Roh Tae-woo administration, but the law clashes with the spirit of the agreement, which calls on both countries not to slander or commit libel against the other country’s government. Chung asked whether the administration could hold an inter-Korean summit with this law in effect.

You can always count on Chung to set a new low for breathtaking stupidity. I’d ask whether these people read the Rodong Sinmun if the answer weren’t so obvious. You can say “sticks and stones” to most of this, but you’d think that if Chung possessed an ounce of civic and patriotic regard for the interests of his own country, he’d at least ask the North not to use its official state media as an instrument of terrorism, for example, by threatening civilian airliners at Incheon Airport.

Civic groups also slammed the law. Koo Kab-woo, head of the People’s Solidarity for a Participatory Democracy’s (PSPD) Center for Peace and Disarmament, said it is possible to address the North Korea human rights issue under the Inter-Korean Relations Development Law passed by the ruling and opposition parties in December 2005, and he does not understand why it was necessary to unilaterally pass the North Korean Human Rights Law at this time. Suh Bo-hyuk, research fellow of the Korea National Strategy Institute, said there is concern that by making the Ministry of Unification the primary body to handle North Korean human rights policy, the law could weaken the ability of the ministry to negotiate with North Korea and have an adverse effect on the development of inter-Korean relations and bringing about substantive improvements in North Korean human rights. [The Hanky]

If this opposition were interested in a sincere regard for the lives of the North Korean people rather than servility toward Kim Jong Il, don’t you suppose the South Korean Left would actually have bothered to formulate a human rights policy for North Korea? It’s their intellectual bankruptcy and their complicit silence during their years in power and ever since that are the most telling.

ROK Intel Blames N. Korea for DDOS Attacks, But You Already Knew That

This, from the now-familiar ROK Intel Leak Ticker — unnamed members or staffers from the intelligence committee of the South Korean National Assembly, quoting unnamed members of the National Intelligence Service:

A North Korean army lab of hackers was ordered to “destroy” South Korean communications networks — evidence the isolated regime was behind cyberattacks that paralyzed South Korean and American Web sites — news reports said Saturday, citing an intelligence briefing.

Members of the parliamentary intelligence committee have said in recent days that the National Intelligence Service has also pointed to a North Korean boast last month that it was “fully ready for any form of high-tech war.”

The spy agency told lawmakers Friday that a research institute affiliated with the North’s Ministry of People’s Armed Forces received an order to “destroy the South Korean puppet communications networks in an instant,” the mass-circulation Joongang Ilbo newspaper reported.

The paper, citing unidentified members of parliament’s intelligence committee, said the institute, known as Lab 110, specializes in hacking and spreading malicious programs.  [AP, Hyung-Jin Kim]

Either (a) all of this is disinformation, or (b) North Korea’s government has been penetrated more times than Annabel Chong.  The North Koreans certainly would know if all these reports are true, which would mean our answer is (b), which could inspire a round of bloody purges, resulting in plenty of the wrong people being shot or sent to camps and the fomenting of factionalism and distrust within the regime.  We’ve seen this kind of dynamic in other places before.

Hey, That Was Nice of You

President Lee Myung Bak has donated $26 million worth of real estate, representing 80% of his personal wealth, to a charity that helps poor kids attend school.

The Jackboot Is on the Other Foot

For years, Roh Moo Hyun’s government funded a host of habitually violent left-wing unions and “civic” groups, and we never heard a peep from the Hankyoreh about that outrage against democracy.  But that was then:

It has been revealed that of the 14.1 billion Won in subsidies for social groups to be provided by the 25 district offices of Seoul City this year, about half, 7 billion won, will go to three major government-initiated community development project groups and 10 veterans groups, including the conservative right-wing Korea Freedom Federation and the Korea Veterans Association, respectively. In particular, criticism has been sparked over improving the screening and evaluation processes for grants to social groups as it has been made known that district offices are paying the management costs of these groups or giving subsidies for unclear projects.  [The Hankyoreh]

Let me be clear:  it’s unhealthy for democracy when governments subsidize political speech in a discriminatory manner to favor sympathetic points of view, and it’s especially dangerous when they fund (and fail to prosecute members of) organizations engaging in violence.  I still wish the Hanky would stop its pretentious grandstanding as though it were the klaxon of liberty.  It certainly took no issue when Roh was funding violent left-wing thugs, when he was using the power of the state to drive money and readership to the Hanky at the expense of the opposition press, or when the government and groups it funded tried to censor free speech critical of North Korea’s regime.  The Hanky was no mere bystander to this.  By passively accepting Roh’s ad money and subscription drive, the Hanky became a part of this conspiracy to stifle freedom of the press.

Yet reading the Hanky these days, you might believe that South Korean democracy is in imminent mortal peril.  But it survived ten years of the government trying to make the Hanky South Korea’s paper of record.  Frankly, I’m not seeing anything dictatorial about President Lee’s media policy, which favors less, not more, government control, regulation, and ownership of the media.  In this particular part of the debate, Lee is absolutely right.  The government shouldn’t be in the news business, because inevitably, government news becomes the state’s propaganda.

Photoblog: Seoul’s Farewell to the “Babo President”

[It’s been almost six months since I last submitted something to OFK, but I’m hoping to be able to write a bit more frequently from now on.  We’ll see.]

In addition to the title “People’s President,” which is being used a lot this week, I learned today that Noh Moo-hyun was called “바보 대통령.”   I’m not so knowledgeable about the man, so that was a bit of a surprise for me to hear at the ceremony for him at City Hall early this afternoon (노제 — a word not in my dictionary — which followed the 영결식 that was attended by all the big-wigs at Gyeong-bok Palace just up the road).

Most of you know what 바보/babo means, but for those who don’t, it literally translates to fool, though it’s tossed around so frequently among friends that it’s often along the lines of calling your friend a dork for doing something silly.  Ie, the term is clearly used with affection here.  Though I suspect there is a back story here.

Begin Update – Friends have since filled me in on Babo Noh Moo-hyun.  He apparently got that nickname before he ever became president — for running as a liberal in races for the National Assembly in districts that were conservative, ie, in races he inevitably lost.  It also was used, now somewhat ironically, to say that he would not be corrupted by the machinations and dealing and corruption that is common if not expected in politicians here.  The thinking was along the lines of only a fool *wouldn’t* go down that road. – End Update
I got to City Hall a bit after 1pm, when things were scheduled to start there.  During the World Cup, it was a sea of red, and this time it was a sea of yellow, the color that represented Mr. Noh.  Many people were wearing card-stock adjumma-style yellow hats that had been handed out, and others were punching yellow balloons in the air.

A sea of yellow hats and balloons        Noh hat     A Yellow Sea of Hats     Yellow Balloons
Read more

I Sense a Great Disturbance in the Force

This just had to happen:  Roh’s bodyguard has changed his story:

It was confirmed that there was no bodyguard present when the former President Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide on May 23. Accordingly, police have launched a reinvestigation of what the former president was doing on the day of suicide.

“It may be that the bodyguard sent by the Cheong Wa Dae was not present when the former president threw himself from “˜Owl Rock,'” an official of the Cheong Wa Dae (the presidential office in South Korea or Blue House) said on Tuesday. “The bodyguard failed to find him and created a false story,” the official added.

A police official said, “The bodyguard has changed his account of his whereabouts several times, and we have summoned him again to the South Gyungsang Police Agency for further questioning.

The police have secured the content of a radio communications report to the Cheong Wa Dae in which the bodyguard said, “I missed him. I cannot see him. Another police official confirmed the content, but said, “We do not know when the radio communication took place. We will find that out through further investigation.   [The Hankyoreh]

My wife has since debriefed me on the conspiracy rumors that are now breeding in Korean cyberspace like fruit flies in a jar, and they’re something sickeningly familiar about the sound of them.  I predicted (scroll down to the bottom) that it was just a matter of time before someone said the CIA was behind it, but I did not predict that it would start here.

And — to ensure a dignified atmosphere and to guarantee that civil unrest could not possibly ensue — they’ve moved Roh’s funeral service to downtown Seoul on Friday.  My advice: bring a gas mask.  Even before this news came out, Korea’s far left had, in a fit of irresponsible exploitation, called Roh’s suicide “murder.”  One can already see the determination in some quarters to exploit this, and if there’s any truth to reports that North Korea has mobilized its Fifth Column in the South, they will.

The North says, “Lies! All lies!”  But whether there’s anything to these particular rumors, there’s little question that the North has infiltrated itself deeply into South Korea’s left, particularly the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the Democratic Labor Party, and the radical student organization HanchongryonStart on Page 12 if you want more.

In his suicide note, Roh had asked to be cremated.  The interests of South Korea’s social order may demand that those wishes be deferred.  Some of the rumors my wife repeated to me revolve around the condition of Roh’s body and the consistency of his injuries with a fall.  If so, President Lee should order an autopsy by an independent and respected medical examiner.

It would be the last bitter irony of Roh Moo Hyun’s time on this earth if his supporters and benefactors use his death as an engine of chaos.

Roh Moo Hyun Dead, an Apparent Suicide

Update 2:   Here’s a translation of Roh’s suicide note.

“I’m indebted to too many people. The pain that I caused to so many people is too great. The pain in the coming days is unfathomable,” Roh said in the note disclosed by police.

“Due to my frail health, I cannot do anything. I cannot read or write. Don’t be too sad. Don’t blame anyone. Life and death are identical parts of nature. It’s fate,” the note said. It also conveyed his desire to be cremated and that a small headstone be set up near his home.  [Yonhap]

Meanwhile, I’m starting to ask myself if Roh’s entire presidency was one long suicide note.  Roh was always very public about his struggles with The Black Dog, and I wince today to read that in November 2006, I had described one of those as a “suicidal ideation.” Roh was a man of great intelligence and idealism who seemed to mean well, but whose manifest weakness of soul placed him completely out of his league.  Roh always reminded me of a peacock trying to eke out his place within a flock of buzzards at a kill.  He often seemed an accidental president who, having campaigned for the office, shrank in fear from the threat of having greatness thrust upon him.

After so many years in which Korea’s leaders, North and South alike, had brought little to office except the will to power, I can understand why Korean voters might have been attracted to a president who wielded power with reluctance.  But what had at first seemed like a reluctance to wield power soon looked much more like a reluctance to hold the office to which he’d been elected, and even betrayed a lack of will to live.  In September 2005, after Roh spoke publicly of “ending the Roh era and starting a new era,” I used a phase that I certainly regret today:  I called Roh “a ledge case.”  Still, I wonder how many observers of Roh’s presidency didn’t see this coming.

I also wonder if Roh might have done much better things for his country had he never become president.  He might still be alive today, as, I would add, might plenty of North Korean refugees he turned away from South Korea.  It’s not inappropriate that we mourn them, too, even today.  In Roh’s prostrate leadership and in his policies toward North Korea, he seemed to impute his own lack of will upon the nation he was elected to lead.

And having said all that, my wife and I are both in disbelief that this happened. Read more

Sunshine Death Watch

BUT WOULDN’T THAT BE NEEDLESSLY STRENUOUS?  South Korean conservatives call for their government to close down Kaesong before Kim Jong Il gets around to it.  Personally, I think things are going perfectly just as they are.

THE GRAND NATIONALS ARE REALLY TWO PARTIES, to hear Andy Jackson describe Park Geun Hye’s efforts to keep her people out of President Lee’s government.  Fortunately for them, the left is even more fragmented and rudderless, because that and the fact of incumbency are the only things keeping them in power.  No South Korean conservative of national prominence today exhibits the vision to reset Korea’s great national debate, so all that remain are competing factions of stolid reactionaries and scary radicals.

THE HANDOVER OF OPERATIONAL CONTROL of the ROK armed forces will go ahead as planned in 2012, says the Chosun Ilbo.  I’ll believe that when there’s a ceremony, guidons are passed among generals, there’s a war, and we actually refuse to take over.  If there is one rule about negotiations in Korea, it is that negotiations are never over.

FROM PLOWSHARES TO SPYGLASSES:  “South Korea’s unification ministry on Tuesday closed its bureau on humanitarian aid to North Korea and created a new one to better analyze Pyongyang’s internal politics as part of government restructuring.”  It sounds like someone (and I don’t mean the North Koreans) is taking Andrei Lankov’s advice.

NOOOOO!

Chung Dong-young, the former DP presidential candidate who lost to President Lee Myung-bak in 2007 in the presidential race, will now represent Deokji in Jeonju, North Jeolla.

Following his defeat against Lee Myung-bak in 2007, a power struggle with the Democratic Party and his subsequent defection, Chung has scored a successful political comeback with 72.3 percent of the vote. [Joongang Ilbo]

This, of course, follows Chung’s much-discussed failure to be named to the National Defense Committee after March’s Supreme Peoples’ Assembly elections, clearing the path for Kim Jong Un’s succession.

The lesson — even a discarded candidate can make a comeback by riding on the natural tendency of voters to reject one-party rule and curb excessive government power (especially in a district that leans hard to the candidate’s direction anyway).  In due course, the same will happen here, just as it did in 2006 and 2008.

Roh Moo Hyun Apologizes for Taking Money in Bribery Scandal

There is now a silver lining to the growing bribery scandal that threatens to tarnish OFK favorite Park Jin. It has also brought some richly deserved shame to leftist former president Roh Moo Hyun, a man who often seemed more like North Korea’s paymaster in Seoul than the leader of South Korea. How much shame, you ask? They’re putting a two-story-high screen around his house.

Much of the money was allegedly paid to Roh’s family and relatives, including his wife and son:

The ex-president’s brother has been arrested on charges of receiving bribes. The Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office suspects that Park provided some $5 million to Yeon through a bank account in Hong Kong in February of last year. The transaction allegedly took place only a few days before Roh’s term ended. Prosecutors have been investigating whether the money actually went to the former president and his family. “I visited Park because I wanted to learn how you can succeed in an overseas business,” Roh Gun-ho said. “I never used even 10 won of Park’s money. [Joongang Ilbo]

Despite early denials that Roh had received any of the money, Roh subsequently admitted asking for and receiving money from businessman Park Yeon-Cha:

“I want to make public something in advance,” Roh wrote. “Right now, Chung Sang-moon, former Blue House secretary, is being questioned on charges of receiving money from Park. I am concerned that Chung might have testified that he had actually done so. The accusation should be directed toward us, not Chung.

“My home made the request, received money and used it,” the former president confessed. “We have done so because we still had outstanding debts.

Roh wrote that he will cooperate with the prosecution’s investigation and testify concerning details. “I will face legal action in accordance with the case. I apologize again,” he wrote.

Following Roh’s statement, prosecutors began mulling when to summon the former president. Because of the statement, “it becomes inevitable for us to question him directly,” said a source at the Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office. [Joongang Ilbo]

The leftist Hankyoreh is at a loss to react. Its assertions of partisanship fall flat, given that the scandal has touched Park, one of the sitting president’s closest confidants.

For seasoned Korea waters, presidential corruption scandals have all the zing and novelty of Kennedys driving drunk. This falls short of my hope for the exposure of the North Korean spy ring that was suspected to have penetrated the South Korean government — assuming the evidence still exists — but even so, I wouldn’t want someone as odious as Roh to be the only Korean ex-president not to have his legacy tainted by a corruption scandal. If abetting mass murder isn’t enough to earn you disrepute on the South Korean street, I’ll settle for this for the time being.

Roh, a former human rights lawyer, somehow managed to leave office with a net worth of almost a million dollars. I had no idea that public service was so profitable.

GNP Lawmaker: Roh may have tried to force N. Korean bomber to retract her accusation of Kim Jong Il

I figured we’d find out a lot of disturbing things about Roh Moo Hyun’s strange affinity for the North Korean regime after he left office. This alleged effort to hijack history suggests that that affinity exceeded his affinity for the lives of South Korean airline passengers:

The ruling Grand National Party will hold a National Assembly hearing about allegations by the surviving bomber of Korean Air flight 858 that the previous government bullied her into backing a conspiracy theory surrounding the 1987 bombing. Kim Hyun-hee, the former North Korean agent now living in the South, has claimed that the National Intelligence Service under the Roh Moo-hyun government leaned on her to appear on a TV program that would examine whether the incident was a setup by South Korean intelligence.

GNP lawmaker Gu Sang-chan, a member of the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee, on Sunday said, “If anybody attempted to force Kim to give false testimony on the bombing of the KAL flight, we must find out truth about who did it and why. The hearing is to be in April. [Chosun Ilbo]

I’ll venture that we’d have learned a lot more about Roh in the government files his administration should have left behind. Unfortunately, most of the Roh Administration’s electronic data files disappeared shortly before the transition, and there were rumors of files being shredded. Imagine that.

This story doesn’t implicate those Roh-appointed “Truth and Reconciliation Committees,” but it’s a fine illustration of the motives that cause me to distrust them. To begin with, the name itself is a lie: they aren’t really about truth or reconciliation, but in erasing inconvenient facts and nursing old grudges. This, combined with years of the same kind of thing from right-wing Korean regimes, leaves Korean history altered beyond recognition. Of course, all of this argument about the past has the useful effect (for some) of distracting Koreans from the dire realities of today.

Korean Lawmakers Talk About Fight Club!

I’m at a complete loss to top the absurdity of Korean politics:

Their political rivals had fled moments earlier through a secret back door. An incensed Lee smashed her colleagues’ nameplates to the floor.

“If I had caught the GNP lawmakers running away, I would have shouted, ‘You bastards!’ ” the petite, bespectacled lawyer said later as she poured tea in her office. “My gesture was symbolic, to mark a moment when the values of democracy and the process of reason had given way to chaos.” [L.A. Times]

I think this says it well enough:

“Many believe that it reinforces the notion that South Korea may be part of the First World economically, but remains politically backward,” Hwang said.

Ya think?

The political antipathy has paralyzed the National Assembly, where legislators were able to muster votes on fewer than 300 of the 2,600 bills introduced in the most recent session.

“Many fighting politicians really do believe that if they lose their battle, democracy itself will be in danger,” said Andy Jackson, a political columnist for the Korea Times.

U.S. officials who negotiate FTA’s and cost-sharing agreements should be forced to watch these videos before boarding their flights to Seoul, just to prepare them for the political culture they’re about to enter.

That Rabbi was such a nice man. Maybe I should send him another ham.

fish.jpgSouth Korean President Lee Myung Bak, who as mayor of Seoul awkwardly offered the city to Almighty God, was recently rescued from the brink of a social and sectarian fiasco when a staffer prevented him from sending Chuseok gift sets of dried anchovies to a group of Buddhist monks (link is in Korean).

Fact 1: Buddhist monks are required to abstain from eating living things.

Fact 2: 22.8% of President Lee’s constituents are Buddhists.

So many mouths. How can one man put a foot in all of them?

As KCTU Calls for ‘All Out War,’ Rally Attendance Declines

The thugs at the Korean Confederation of trade unions see opportunity in their country’s bad economic times, reports the sympathetic Hankyoreh:

The KCTU plans to launch an “all out war” against the Lee administration in February, since it has again made known its intention to have the ruling Grand National Party pass revisions to laws on irregular workers and the minimum wage in the extraordinary National Assembly session scheduled for that month. The KCTU plans to launch its offensive with demands for labor-government negotiations early in the month, and will then hold large daily rallies beginning in the third week, leading to a protest involving 30,000 of its members on the 28th.

“We can’t stop the bad legislative proposals originating with Lee Myung-bak,” said KCTU Secretary-General Lee Yong-sik. “Unless we have a war. [The Hankyoreh]

If you live in South Korea, mark your calendars and plan on spending those days with your Wii. The KCTU has a history of bringing iron pipes, bamboo poles, and like implements of free expression to its demonstrations. Yet things aren’t really working out the way the KCTU had hoped:

It is unfortunate to see that the economic stagnation is weakening the union’s ability to wage labor struggles and that it could see a rise in self-interest among regular, as opposed to irregular, workers, and among unions at different companies.

For starters, there are fewer participants at KCTU rallies. Fewer than 100 KCTU members actually joined in its “48-Hour National Action to Stop the Broadcast Law” in the final days of 2008.

Union officials confirm that they are seeing a continued lack of power to involve large numbers of people in protests.

The Hanky helpfully theorizes that in bad economic times, workers may not want to rock the boat. I wouldn’t be astonished if the KCTU’s violence had begun to alienate workers, employers, and smaller unions considering an affiliation with them.

The KCTU has also suffered from its sudden inability to sow anarchy in the streets with impunity. The jihad the KCTU declared against Lee Myung Bak a year ago played a significant role in the beef riots that seriously damaged President Lee’s presidency, but when the entire basis for the riots was exposed as false, the radical left may well have emerged from the entire crisis with less public confidence that the U.S. beef that’s now flying off Korean store shelves. President Lee, not the sort to back down magnanimously when confronted, arrested the KCTU’s president and several other of its leaders in December for organizing “illegal” and characteristically violent demonstrations. The KCTU president sits in jail to this day.

When you subtract out all of the hours the KCTU devotes to anarchy and juche, it’s a wonder they have any time at all to think of their rank and file. Personally, I’ve long believed that South Koreans need to set aside an outlet for their more combative side where the fisticuffs wouldn’t impede traffic. They could set aside a special gladiators’ arena for that specific purpose, complete with bamboo poles, riot shields, and tear gas grenades for rent by the opposing sides. Think of the revenue the season ticket sales would generate … for education, of course. We could call it “Demo Land.” I even know where there’s some vacant land they could use.

FTA Prospects Still Bleak

You know, with all of the anti-American falsehoods some Koreans proliferated before the FTA was signed, I thought the entire effort was more trouble than it was worth even before the beef riots, also inspired by asinine libel, and largely attended by people so stupid as to legitimize the issue of reproductive licensing. Then came the recent parliamentary brawls:

And for a moment, South Korea blessed a troubled world with the gift of laughter. (If you polled Koreans about how the world views them, and there’s a topic about which too many Koreans are obsessed, at least 85% of would list “hub of celadon pottery,” “four distinct seasons,” and “rightful owners of Tokdo” as their top responses. And not in that order.)

Not long ago, it seemed that Korea had negotiated a deal so great — for Korea, that is — that no congressman would dare vote for it.

At long last, some are predicting that the National Assembly will finally pass the FTA at long last. Meaning we’ll soon have an FTA with our vestigial quasi-ally across the Pacific? Not exactly, says U.S. trade official Jay Eizenstat:

“I think FTAs with Panama and Columbia will be ratified by Congress in the second half of this year. As for the Korea-U.S. FTA, however, the chances of ratification are remote because of tricky issues including the auto industry. [Donga Ilbo]

If there’s one point of overwhelming agreement among Americans about the U.S. auto industry, it’s that it should become more competitive, bailout or not (not, if you care to know my preference — bankruptcy and restructuring could do the automakers much good, and a bailout would do our Treasury much harm.)

Foreign competition is far from Detroit’s only problem, of course: Detroit makes shitty cars, and it’s burdened with smothering labor contracts that drive costs too high and inhibit business flexibility. But Detroit can’t be competitive when its offshore competitors, who are unburdened by the EPA and a slew of other acronyms, insist on parasitic trade policies that haven’t made sense since Korea’s economic recovery became an established fact in the 1980’s. Want to be treated as a more equal partner? Being an equal trading partner would be a good first step.

The idea behind the FTA was to strengthen the strained U.S.-Korean relationship at a time when the two governments agreed on little else. Unfortunately, the exact opposite has happened, because Korea’s public discourse is being shaped by the lowest elements of its political culture, elements that have far less regard for civil debate and democratic governance than the achievement of their aims through mendacity and, when convenient, violence. Who thinks that Korean society will have outgrown those flaws in its character before the U.S. and Korea renegotiate the one part of this FTA with the greatest financial impact on the rank and file of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions?