Sohn Hak-Kyu’s Olympic Folly

2011-04-19t091219z_01_sen202_rtridsp_0_korea-politics.jpgWhy did I shudder when I heard that South Korea had won the winter Olympics? Because I knew it was just a matter of time before some imbecile had an idea like this one:

Rep. Sohn Hak-kyu, chairman of the opposition Democratic Party, said Monday the party would push for “some events at the 2018 Winter Olympics to be staged in North Korea.

He said he would also bring up the issue of forming a unified team with the North in future talks with the ruling Grand National Party and the government.

“We are seriously reviewing ways of involving the North in the hosting of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics,” Sohn said during a party supreme council meeting.

“We will make the PyeongChang Olympics the turning point in Korea’s divided history. [Korea Times]

I cannot believe this man actually believes what he just said. I can believe he believes that some of his potential voters believe what he just said, which saddens me. It certainly didn’t take long for North Korea to endorse this idea. They’re all about sponging off the neighbors they periodically attack.

If you take Sohn at his word, he’s still chasing the lost dream of bribing North Korea into being nice, making up, and joining hands, which seemed to be all the South Korean left stood for during the decade it held in power in South Korea. But it’s one thing for them to want to finance Kim Jong Il as part of a novel experiment, as long as they could still theorize plausibly that financing North Korea’s regime would moderate, reform, and transform it. It’s another thing for them to want to finance North Korea’s regime after events have conclusively refuted that theory, and after Kim Jong Il opened a low-intensity conflict that killed dozens of South Koreans, terrorized thousands more, and depopulated a small but highly strategic piece of South Korean territory. The Commander of U.S. Forces in Korea doesn’t think we’ve seen the last of North Korea’s escalated provocations. Meanwhile, we’re still seeing constant reminders of the Sunshine Policy’s costly and failed legacy:

Hyundai Asan is suffering snowballing losses after tours to Mt. Kumgang in North Korea were halted in the wake of fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist in the resort. Park Wang-ja was shot dead by a North Korean soldier on July 11, 2008 and Hyundai Asan’s sales losses have accumulated to W390 billion (US$1=W1,058) over the three years, with staff dwindling from about 1,000 to just over 300, a spokesman said on Sunday. [Chosun Ilbo]

The idea behind Sunshine was to leverage South Korea’s financial advantage to buy influence in the North and thus transform its political system, but something like the opposite is closer to the truth. Plenty of South Korean money poured into the black hole of North Korea, but some South Koreans were so desperate to see results justifying that cost that North Korea ended up gaining more political influence in the South than vice versa. North Korea’s determination not to reform itself meant that even attempts to use sporting events to bridge political and cultural differences often widened them, and sometimes ended horribly for the North Koreans involved. We even saw North Koreans begin to impose their censorship on political expression on South Korean territory. North Korea’s own approach to sports has been, like everything else in North Korea, relentlessly political and defiant of the ways in which other human beings are expected to behave (possibly to include its doping rules). When it loses matches, North Korean coaches revert to unsportsmanlike excuses that their athletes were struck by lightning or poisoned by their hosts. After a decade of the Sunshine Policy, there’s more evidence that it changed South Korea’s political system than evidence that it changed the North’s.

And we can look forward to five years of that if Sohn Hak-Kyu becomes of the President of South Korea.

So how is Sohn’s theory still plausible to any thinking person? I can’t imagine that many of its supporters are attracted to it for logical reasons. Most people, regardless of intelligence, arrive at their conclusions for emotional reasons that resist evidence and logic. Their intelligence is mostly squandered on elaborate justifications for what they’ve already decided to believe. Plenty of intelligent people still do support Sunshine-like policies because they can’t see any better ideas and feel compelled to advocate for something, if only so that they appear to have answers. But on what basis can they still argue that it might work? What has North Korea done to deserve a piece of this action in any sense at all? And once again, why is North Korea allowed into the Olympics in any capacity whatsoever? After all, for years, the IOC didn’t let South Africa in, and as racist a place as South Africa was, at least they didn’t kill babies for being racially impure there. And we ought to remember that we object to racism because the basic presumption of equality is just one of many human rights. If the IOC has made the decision to stand for one such basic right, how can it justify holding an Olympic event in a place that does this to people?

The pendulum effect being what it is, I have a terrible feeling that someone like Sohn could actually win the next presidential election in South Korea. If so, I’ll probably regain my sense of urgency about getting American troops the hell out of South Korea. I suppose Sohn could be proposing this to appease the far left wing of his party. Sohn is a defector from the more conservative Grand National Party. He recently defeated the loser of the 2008 presidential election, Chung Dong-Young, as leader of the left-wing Democratic Party. Sohn isn’t from the Cheolla provinces, the DP’s base. It’s doubtful that he’ll be the DP’s presidential nominee without a challenge from within his own party, or from another left-wing party. In South Korean election years, the only thing you can rely on is that there will be frequent and dramatic shifts of party affiliation, nomenclature, and loyalty.

In the meantime, North Korea is changing — not because of any officially sanctioned cultural exchanges, joint ventures, or feel-good sports spectacles, but in 23 million small ways, and despite the regime’s desperation to stop that change. North Korea is changing anyway because even among the world’s most downtrodden people, there is an emerging market for the basic needs that the state refuses to provide, and also for knowledge, news, and entertainment from the greater world. Because of this, the metastasis of its political system is now probably too advanced for the Olympics to save:

A Chongjin source reported from North Hamgyeong province on June 26th, “People are copying and renting out South Korean dramas in Chongjin.” The source said that there are so many interested in the dramas that where previously they might gather in secret to watch them, now people are trading them as a business. The transaction method is comparable with video rental Stores in the South.

“Those trading in the CDs can’t do so legitimately and always have to be on the lookout for the authorities. But they are getting repeat customers from those who are addicted to the products,” said the source.

The CDs are produced in China and smuggled into North Korea in large quantities. In order to assure the success of the operation, it is essential for the traders to establish sound corrupt relationships with the security agencies. [Open News]

Even if the regime manages to forestall events like those in Syria and Libya for many more years, the next generation of propagandists and enforcers won’t believe in the system, and the inhibitions of the common people about hiding that disbelief are eroding steadily. There’s reason to hope that by 2018, North Korea will have undergone some dramatic change of government, or be in a state of such disarray that reality will hush this misbegotten idea.

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Mayor of Incheon Blames North Korean Shelling on Little Eichmanns Coming Home to Roost

song-young-gil.jpgI’ve often said that in the eyes of many “progressive” South Koreans, it’s just not physically possible for North Korea to do wrong, and Incheon Mayor Song Young-Gil has done much to confirm our worst fears. A day after the North Koreans shelled Yeonpyeong Island — which, by the way, is undisputed South Korean territory — Song tweeted out that the attack was provoked by South Korean military exercises.

Song also uploaded some pictures and said that North Korea shelled a market on Yeonpyeong because it was a South Korean intelligence facility a decade ago. Apparently, certain reactionary Netizens interpreted Song’s comments as a justification of North Korea’s decision to shell Yeonpyeong and its choice of targets.

You don’t say.


[It’s OK, ma’am, he had it coming. AP photo.]

Anyway, after Song’s tweet generated controversy, he deleted it. Flushed it down the memory hole. Trotskied it.

Song was elected just last June, in a mid-term election that came less than three months after the sinking of the Cheonan. The Democratic Party pretty much ran the tables in that race, which came not even three months after the North Koreans sank the Cheonan, and when DP politicians were already circulating insane conspiracy theories that blamed pretty much everyone but the party found responsible by a multi-national investigation. Disturbing as it was not to see the DP hounded out of the political mainstream for its zany and frankly unpatriotic conduct, the DP did later take a beating in National Assembly elections, which are harder to write off as being the consequence of local issues.


[“Whoa. It says ‘Made in Kaesong.'” AP photo of DP leaders Sohn Hak-Kyu and “Comrade” Chung Dong-Young]

Oh, and did I mention that the good people of Yeonpyeong-Do are Mayor Song’s own constituents? It takes some poking around, but as it turns out, Yeonpyeong-Do is part of Ongjin County, which was merged into the municipality of Incheon in 1995.



[AFP, AP photos of legitimate military targets]

You really have to love a guy you can always count on to stick up for the people who got him where he is today. It’s times like this when I can only shake my head and wonder which Korean regime will collapse first. If the Pendulum Principle of Politics is correct, Song’s party will probably nominate South Korea’s next president. And when that person is actually elected — most likely while riding the wave of some incomprehensibly silly issue — we should really ask ourselves why we’re supposed to defend people who can’t even decide whether they should be defended.

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President Lee Leases Tokdo to Japan for 100 Years to Build Porn Studio

islands.jpgOh, wait — that’s not it. It was North Korea that actually leased two islands to China to build (what else?) casinos. Yes, casinos. File that one under “stuff Chinese people like.” It might also go under “stuff that North Korean money launderers like.”

The difference being, the islands of Hwan Geum Pyong and Ui Hwa Do actually consist of arable farmland. Not that North has any shortage of that, of course.

I eagerly await the Hankyoreh’s reaction and the impact on North Korea’s impeccable nationalist credentials.

Correction: The Global Times, a not-all-that-well-loved ChiCom broadsheet, citing the Hankook Ilbo, says the islands will be the site of a “free trade zone.” Hat tip, Chris.

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Did Lee Myung Bak Just Get His Mojo Back?

I’ve been meaning to write about the latest off-year election results in South Korea for the last several days. In what must be a welcome shift for Lee, unlike the June local and provincial elections, the ruling GNP scored what Yonhap called “a stunning victory over the opposition parties.”

In crucial by-elections gauging public sentiment toward the Lee Myung-bak administration midway through its term, the ruling Grand National Party yesterday scored precious victories in high-profile districts, making a successful political rebound from painful defeats in last month’s local elections.

Eight vacancies in the National Assembly were filled through yesterday’s elections, and victories of two advisers of President Lee were confirmed last night in Seoul and North Chungcheong, as well as two more victories in Incheon and South Chungcheong. [Joongang Ilbo]

The big race, in my wife’s home district, put Lee Jae-Oh back into the National Assembly.

The Democrats were clearly disappointed. Party officials’ faces became tense as the vote count progressed. Reflecting such a mood, DP Chairman Chung Sye-kyun only visited the party’s headquarters around 10:10 p.m. “I and the party’s leadership did our best,” Chung said. “We humbly accept the outcome.

It’s interesting to contrast the general lack of media interest in these results to the broadly reported consensus that the June local elections represented a “rebuke” by voters of Lee Myung Bak’s supposed “hard-line” policy toward North Korea (any reports of which are interpretive hallucinations).

What can I make of this change? There are several possibilities:

* These elections chose members of the National Assembly, not local executives. In other words, this time, the issues were national, not local. This is where the Cheonan Incident gains some direct relevance.

* Lee is wisely backing off on his ambitious local projects, and there has been a new sacrifice in accord with this.

* Turnout was high, which may mean that more conservative voters turned out. The mid-term effect was suppressed. Maybe the June elections shook some of them out of their complacency.

* The elections were held just as the U.S. and Korean navies held exercises that drew the predictable North Korean threats and much whining from the Chicoms. They also began as South Korean newspapers began to report that the U.S. government would start a global pursuit of North Korean assets to block. This time, there’s actually a credible case for there being a “hard line” to rebuke. And yet there was no rebuke.

As interesting as these theories are to me, a more likely one is that South Korean politics are just unstable and unpredictable, and that any efforts to make enough sense of them to achieve any predictive value are doomed.

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A Nation in Denial: On South Korea’s Mid-Terms

I’ve taken a good long while to chew on the results of South Korea’s recent election, and while I’m ready to offer some unscientific speculation about what it didn’t mean, I really wish that I had some good, reliable polling numbers to give me a more concrete idea of what motivated people to vote, and what didn’t. With that said, my main interest in the results (below the fold for the winners) is the media consensus that it was rebuke for President Lee’s hard line toward North Korea after the Cheonan Incident, or, as the BBC put it, “a blow for Mr Lee’s tough stance on North Korea, accused of sinking the Cheonan.”


If that’s true, then this was the most consequential election in South Korea, because it was effectively a referendum for surrender to North Korean terror. America cannot defend a people who are able but not willing to defend themselves. Even more fundamentally, there was no hard line, merely the absence of that comfortable denial to which South Koreans have become so accustomed. This is what Roh Moo Hyun duly delivered when North Korea committed outrages during his presidency, but President Lee Myung Bak is made of sterner and smarter stuff than that. Lee asked for and got an international report of investigation, which confirmed my immediate suspicion that North Korea did it. Armed with this result, Lee lobbied for the oxymoron called the “international community” (or United Nations, take your pick) to restore deterrence and preserve peace. The response was a lot of Chinese obstructionism, denial, and callousness; the predictable bupkes from the U.N.; and not much more from the Obama Administration, at least so far. The only consequences North Korea has suffered, aside from the loss of some trade Kim Jong Il was clearly prepared to sacrifice, was that a few North Korean soldiers must now endure the agony of K-pop on loudspeakers and giant TV screens, though to be fair, I’m sure Amnesty International would denounce this as torture if we played it for Khalid Sheikh Mohammad.

The thing is, I’m not sure that the media have this right. I think they found a simple, easy headline that oversimplifies a slightly different point, which is that Korean voters chose not to fulfill President Lee’s expectation that the Cheonan Incident would propel him to victory at the polls. But there are important differences.

How badly the GNP really did, of course, depends on your expectations. The GNP had expected to win nine of the 16 big races last week. Pre-election polls showed them winning big where they barely won, or barely lost. The GNP obviously thinks it lost; hence the ritualized gesture of the the resignation of its party leader, whom I seem to recall was already a somewhat controversial figure. Of course, up until the Cheonan incident, the GNP was expected to suffer big losses. One analyst said, “Without the Cheonan incident, the opposition party would have won in Seoul as well.” After the incident and President Lee’s initially clumsy but commendably calm handling of it, however, the GNP expected that Korean voters would rally to Lee following a surge of patriotic unity.

It’s safe to say this much: those expectations were misplaced. Here, then, is how I explain this:

1. The people, including many conservatives, don’t like Lee’s megaprojects.

Some politics are local, and that’s especially so when the candidates, after all, are running for mayor and governor, not for President or the National Assembly. The GNP’s losses in central South Korea appear to have had more to do with local issues than international or security issues:

The ruling party was powerless even in North and South Chungcheong provinces and Daejeon, where voters rallied behind the GNP in previous local elections. The GNP’s defeats in those areas clearly reflected the dissatisfaction among Chungcheong residents with the government’s revision of the Sejong city blueprint, which overturned former President Roh Moo-hyun’s plan to create a new administrative capital, creating instead a regional business hub.

Not even conservatives like these grandiose plans. Lee’s intra-party opponent, Park Geun-Hye, opposed the Sejong City plan and sounds tepid on the four rivers project. I understand why. Frankly, both projects sound like money pits and unforced environmental disasters to me. I’m not certain whether this helps explain the loss of the GNP governorship in Incheon which must have hurt.

2. The mid-term effect.

First, here are the partisan voting patterns:

About 48 percent of voters supported candidates from the Democratic Party and two other opposition parties, while 40 percent voted for candidates from Lee’s ruling Grand National Party (GNP), according to the election commission. In midterm elections four years ago, GNP candidates won more than 50 percent of the vote. [WaPo, Blaine Harden]

Note that Democratic Party votes are lumped in here with all other opposition parties. For all we know, a good share of these votes were for the arch-conservative Liberty Forward Party, which actually won the mayoral election in Daejon. This doesn’t tell us all that much.

Mid-term elections tend to draw fewer moderate or “swing” voters. They turn out people who dislike the party that holds most of the power and favor the party in opposition. Swing voters also tend to hold the party in power responsible for whatever isn’t right with the country at the time. We saw this in 2006 and 2008, and we’ll see it again in 2010. In fact, it’s a well established historical trend. Whenever this happens, pundits are fond of calling it a mandate or a referendum, which is often true, but less true than pundits often assume, typically because they (a) favor one party over another, or (b) want the party they favor to behave differently. But an equally important reason why ruling parties lose mid-term elections is that voters loathe a monocracy. They like checks and balances. (Consider this my warning to you not to overestimate the meaning of 2010, other than the fact that voters think the Democrats have too much power and want to trim it back.)

“The public sentiment to check the GNP and keep the balance seemed to have reduced the gap between the ruling and opposition parties,” said Jeong Han-wool, executive director at the East Asia Institute, a Seoul-based research group. “The ship incident seems to have reinforced the existing conservative votes for the ruling party, but was not enough to change the minds of independent and left-leaning voters.” [Washington Post, Blaine Harden]

We saw this same disparity of turnout in the Korean election. “Complacent” supporters of the GNP didn’t turn out in high numbers. More voters — not all of them leftists, I’d guess — responded to opposition calls to keep the GNP’s “monopoly” in check. Said another,

“The opposition DP’s victory in the local elections was a surprise to the market as the last polls had suggested a GNP landslide victory,” said Kwon Young-sun, an analyst at the Japanese investment bank Nomura International. “We interpret this result as Korean voters’ choice for reining in the ruling camp.” [Yonhap]

Leftists, by contrast, twittered off to the polls like disciplined cadres:

Turn-out was at 54.5%, the highest for local polls in 15 years. Large numbers of young people were said to have voted. The BBC’s John Sudworth in Seoul says that perhaps this group, thought to be more liberal in its outlook, chose to register its protest against a conservative president and his tough anti-North Korean stance. [BBC]

Again, some of this is to be expected, but adults on both side of the Pacific ought to be plenty worried about how extreme South Korea’s left really has become.

3. The results weren’t quite as advertised.

By picking up seven seats, the Democratic Party beat expectations, but it’s also important to remember that one of the seats stolen from the GNP was won by Lee Hoi-Chang’s arch-conservative Liberty Forward Party. Two others were won by independent politicians whose affiliations are not yet clear.

4. Anti-Americanism sells better than national security.

Regardless of what drove this election, the lackluster reaction of South Koreans to the murder of 46 of their sailors ought to make Americans much more realistic about how South Koreans see us, and the costly support we lend to their security. In fact, it ought to make them angry. Consider: to this day, the Hankyoreh is still exploiting the deaths of two young South Korean girls killed accidentally by a U.S. Army vehicle in 2002 to stir hate against America. For more than a year after the incident, Americans in Korea were confronted with massive demonstrations, violent attacks on U.S. facilities and military personnel, and ugly displays of anti-American bigotry. It worked; that hatred is what installed Roh Moo Hyun into a misbegotten presidency that even he came top regret, though Roh’s party renewed its lease on power by exploiting it again in 2006 (the Humphreys expansion) and 2008 (the urban myth that was Mad Cow). Whatever can be said of North Korea’s impact on Korean voters, it sure doesn’t sell at the ballot box, or on the streets, like anti-Americanism obviously does.

5. People are in denial.

The sentiment may be easier to understand when you live within range of thousands of artillery tubes and missiles, many of which carry chemical, biological, and thermobaric warheads. My guess is that plenty of South Koreans, for various reasons, are still in denial about the Cheonan Incident. For most of them, I suspect, it’s a passive denial, rooted in their terror of confronting its implications. Denial certainly holds some appeal to these people on an emotional level, though on a rational level, if confronted, they’d mostly concede that North Korea did it. This mostly motivates people to stay home on election day. These are, in a very real sense, the kind of people that terrorism is meant to reach and influence. They may accept the truth of what happened, but they’re scared enough to sell their freedom, one bought peace at a time. How else do you reconcile this election result with pre-election polls that show most Koreans believe North Korea deliberately attacked the Cheonan, or that most South Koreans support sanctions against the North? The most plausible answer is that the poll of potential voters and actual voters are two different things, and polls can’t always measure the complexity of opinion beneath a simple “yes” or “no” answer.

Another guess I’ll advance: These same people probably want Uncle Sam around to make sure it all proceeds gradually enough. Maybe a sense that Uncle Sam won’t always be there will awaken some of them from this denial, but if it doesn’t, there’s nothing Uncle Sam can really do about it. It’s the job of South Korea’s president to lead South Koreans.

6. Stupidity is a persistent thing.

By now, you’re wondering: Is he really saying that everyone who voted for a Democratic Party candidate this year is stupid? Yes, I am. Every last one of them. The DP’s response to the gravest national security crisis in Korean history since 1968 has been a mendacious and unpatriotic blend of conspiracy theories, expedient ankle-biting, and weak-minded counsel against the urgent priority of restoring deterrence. The DP deserved to be punished and marginalized as the lunatic fringe and North Korean puppet it has become, but it wasn’t.

Here, I generally lump the DP with the Korean Left because functionally, I see little difference in their views. The Left’s denial is a different sort from the denial of moderate voters; this is on-the-spot guidance fed to them by their puppetmasters in the Guidance Bureau, and if you think I’ve crossed the line to wacky John Birch Commie conspiracy territory, I’d only ask you to review the evidence of just how extensive North Korea’s network of influence in South Korea really is.

The hard left’s denial isn’t passive, it’s active and strident. This denial, of course, is faith-based, not fact-based. Having concluded either that Kim Jong Il is incapable of such evil or that only President Lee really could be, they defy all of the evidence and cling to an assortment of theories about reefs, the torpedo’s German origin, or (most convenient of all) a joint exercise with the Americans “gone wrong.”

You can’t dismiss this as a vocal lunatic fringe, either. It has the capacity to swing mid-term elections and get millions of people into the streets. And South Korea only just completed a ten-year period when this group held the levers of power in Seoul, propped up Kim Jong Il’s regime with billions in aid, and allowed North Korean spies to run amok in the Blue House, bedding officers for classified documents and cajoling major generals for war plans. But the problem is, ten years from now, the zany lunatic fringe voters will still be voting, and the geriatric conservatives won’t be. This suggests that unless President Lee can bridge this generation gap, demographics will be destiny, and the two Koreas will be in a race toward collapse.

(On a side note, consider: if you were Kim Jong Il and the Reconnaissance Bureau informed you one day that they’d managed to get one of their operatives elected as President of South Korea, what would you do next? Have the new president open the DMZ and let your tanks roll to Yosu? Not a chance. Your emaciated little kingdom has half of South Korea’s population, and surely some parts of the Army would break away and resist. The Americans might intervene. Worst of all, you wouldn’t want your soldiers to get a look at Seoul, would you? Instead, you’d steer your new subordinate toward gradually distancing himself from the Americans, stirring anti-Americanism among southerners, weakening South Korea’s defenses, suppressing criticism of your regime, and keeping you well supplied with cash — no questions asked. All of which sounds a lot like what did happen when Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun were in office. I’m just saying.)

What should Lee do about this? One thing he certainly ought not to do is to prosecute people for espousing zany views, which is what some people are calling for now in the case of one such group, called People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy. I obviously can’t prove they’re working for the North Koreans, but it’s telling that their rhetoric is indistinguishable from North Korea’s. But PSPD is only one of these groups. There’s the Hanchongryon, and Korea’s largest labor organization and teachers’ union both show symptoms of having this virus. Certainly not all of these people are knowingly working for the North Koreans. Lee can’t prosecute all of them, nor should he. But he ought to order his police (investigation hasn’t been their strong suit, traditionally) to investigate and prosecute people for actively working for the North Koreans in South Korea. Rather than giving them long show trials and jail terms, the government ought to expose them and their organizations publicly, brand them with the stigma of criminal convictions, remove them positions of influence in schools and unions, and fine them. And one point where I strongly agree with the conservatives is that the South Korean government ought to investigate who is funding these groups. I emphasize: I speak here only of those who knowingly work under the direction of the North Korean government and its agents.

One good piece of news here is that so far, President Lee is at least trying to explain matters to his people:

On Monday, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak renewed calls for a strong response. “If we fail to sternly respond to North Korea’s wrongdoing in cooperation with the international community and build up solid military readiness, a second and third provocation like the Cheonan incident can occur anytime,” he said in a nationally televised speech. [AP, Hyung-Jin Kim]

He has far to go, and there are great obstacles in his way. I wish him luck. His country is worth saving.

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Kim Jong Il Has a Vote, Too

It’s election day in South Korea. The South has retreated, for the moment, from its plans to use psyops to influence public opinion in North Korea, but the converse certainly isn’t true. North Korea has a well developed, firmly rooted cadre of sympathizers, fifth columnists, spies, and the occasional hit team in South Korea, and the National Intelligence Service thinks they were actively campaigning on election day:

A South Korean intelligence officer on Tuesday said Pyongyang is posting articles on major websites denying all accusations. “The North used stolen residence registration numbers and IDs of South Koreans,” he said. The posts are broadly the same as a statement from the North’s National Defense Commission, its top policy body. It was uploaded on the state-run North Korean website Urimizokkiri.

This isn’t North Korea’s first foray into South Korean politics. Recall that North Korea once had the Democratic Labor Party so thoroughly infiltrated that its agents within the party tried to throw the Seoul mayoral election to the ruling Uri Party by getting the DLP candidate to withdraw at the last minute.

It wouldn’t bother me a great deal if the South Korean government shelved forever those plans to turn on propaganda loudspeakers and electric sign boards at the DMZ. It’s unlikely they’d have much effect anyway, and they raise a real risk that the North Koreans would start shooting across the DMZ. Far better to put up some tall cell phone towers on the mountains overlooking the DMZ, flood the North with cheap phones, and set up a call center where South Korean operators can locate long-lost relatives for North Korean callers.

Related: CNN has more on the North Korean refugees who are determined to subvert the political system under which they could not live.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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