Archive for Korean Politics

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?

Roh Legacy Death Watch

There are two entries in this merry vigil:

- Roh’s brother ordered jailed over a bribery scandal.

- A left-wing agitprop history textbook heads off for the ash-heap of …. Still, the counter-revisionism is going a tad too far when episodes like Kwangju are flat-out written out of history. The idea is to put historical events into their proper context. Kwangju no more defines South Korean history or its modern reality than the Pullman Strike defines American history or its modern reality. And as I’ve pointed out, the North Korean famine often killed as as many people as Kwangju in a single day for six-plus years, has immense significance to one’s understanding of modern North Korea, and — I’ll go out on a limb here — probably draws little or no mention in these lefty texts. That doesn’t mean Kwangju isn’t a significant historical event; it means that if your entire view of history is built around the Japanese occupation, No Gun Ri, Kwangju, and a bought summit with Kim Jong Il, you’re not being educated about history, you’re just being indoctrinated with it. And ultimately, isn’t that what many Koreans are complaining about with regard to Japanese textbooks?

The Wisdom of Kim Dae Jung: Slavery Is Prosperity, Censorship Is Freedom, Terror Is Peace

No matter what the North Koreans do with Kaesong next week or next year, their actions last week have already assured that it will fail to attract the international investment it needs to succeed.  The North having demonstrated its willingness to hold potential investors’ capital hostage to their political whims, those investors will now stay away in droves.

It’s worth reviewing just how grandiose the dream of Kaesong had become so recently.  If you recognize the url stamped onto this video, that’s probably because you’ve seen it here.  These people truly, seriously suggest that landlocked, DMZ-bounded Kaesong, seated firmly on the pressure plate of what could become World War III in an instant, would have become an economic hub for the entire region, employing 200,000 laborers and eventually expanding into one of Korea’s largest metropolitan areas.

How is it possible for people so divorced from reality to gain control over that much capital?  Oh, right.

There’s also something oddly familiar about this whole three-phase concept:

  • Phase I: Build factories on territory of bankrupt, anti-capitalist tyranny, just across the world’s most militarized border.
  • Phase Two: ?
  • Phase III: Profit.
  • Why do I have this odd sense of deja vu?

    Aside from the snicker-inducing not-quite-right English and the references to the North’s “superior” labor, the video claims that the workers’ monthly wage of $57.50 is the lowest on earth.  Plenty of reputable newspapers (in my estimation, most of them) continue to falsely report similar “wage” figures for the North Korean workers, although we know that the regime’s inflated exchange rates and “voluntary” deductions leave the workers little if any money to keep for themselves.  This is one instance where journalistic malpractice does not just flourish, it prevails.

    The South Korean left is writhing mightily to find some way to blame its own government for North Korea’s strangling of Kaesong.  One Hankyoreh columnist blames Lee Myung Bak for reacting calmly instead of desperately throwing money and concessions at the North Koreans.  This makes for pretty amusing reading, though not as amusing as the columnist’s name.  Funny, I always thought Koreans kept their maiden names ….

    And of course, senile ex-President Kim Dae Jung can’t stand to spend his autumn years in quiet reflection, wondering whether that shiny Nobel Prize really was worth the massive illegal diversion of public funds he used to purchase it.  (Depending on your answer to that, DJ was either Korea’s greatest statesan or just another crooked politician willing to swindle the public to aggrandize himself.  Hmmm.)   DJ, never one to let logic or the fear of rhetorical excess get in the way of any given instant’s objective, would have us all believe that Lee Myung Bak is leading a column of tanks back to Kwangju from the cupola of an M-113, with Chun Doo Hwan jerking levers under the driver’s hatch:

    Speaking about what he says is a regression of the democratic reforms achieved up to this point because of the government’s mishandling of the candlelight demonstrations, Kim sent an indirect warning to the Lee administration, saying, “Those who are practicing strong-arm politics think they cannot fail, and are under the misconception that they are different from the past.

    Kim asked the people to have confidence, saying that democracy “may be facing a temporary set back, but there will be no retreat. Can a dictatorship arise before people who achieved democracy?” In particular, Kim strongly urged the Democratic Party and the Democratic Labor Party to join forces to defend democracy.

    Kim said, “I’m very concerned because a crisis of democracy is coming, but I’m not in despair. Democracy, he said again, “may be facing a temporary set back, but there will be no retreat.   [The Hankyoreh]

    Today’s topic:  Is the Nobel Peace Prize merely conclusive proof of the recipient’s stupidity or the Mark of the Beast?  Discuss amongst yourselves.  Yes, do tell us all, DJ, how the forces of freedom can stop Lee Myung Bak’s iron heel from censoring its opposition in the South or stamping out the sassy, vibrant democracy that thrives in North Korea today?  For starters, DJ thinks President Lee is letting entirely too much free speech running amok:

    Regarding the propaganda leaflets bearing messages critical of the North Korean regime and sent to the North in balloons, Kim said, “The South and the North agreed not to slander each other (under the June 15 Declaration and others). However, we are not living up to that promise” because the leaflets are still being sent northward. “Are these agreements that the private sector doesn’t have to follow but the government does? Who are they trying to fool?”

    I could ask the same question of a has-been politician who is about to mount the soap box of free-speech martyrdom.  I believe DJ is telling us that South Korea must destroy free expression to save democracy.  I’m certainly no big fan of Lee Myung Bak, but there’s no one quite like Kim Dae Jung to remind us all that Lee is still the lesser of two idiocies.

    Tokdo: Now Officially the Dumbest International Crisis in History

    … thus supplanting all of that Seige of Troy unpleasantness.

    I cannot say that South Korea would be much the worse for having dismissed Ambassador Lee Tae Shik from his post, but that is incidental to the skull-smacking stupidity of why:

    The government on Monday decided to call Korean Ambassador to the U.S. Lee Tae-shik to account if it is found that the embassy did not react promptly to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names listing Dokdo under “undesignated sovereignty.” The change, from a clear indication of Korea’s sovereignty, appears to play into the hands of Japanese attempts to portray the islets as disputed territory. [Chosun Ilbo]

    Even the Foreign Minister’s job may be in peril over this insignificant development in the dispute over two insignificant and uninhabitable lumps of guano.

    Wait.  It gets even dumber:

    South Korea could stop cooperating with Japan in six-party talks on denuclearising North Korea if their territorial dispute worsens, Seoul’s ambassador to Tokyo said Thursday.  South Korea has already rejected a Japanese proposal for foreign ministerial talks next week on the sidelines of a regional security forum in Singapore.

    Japan’s reaffirmed claim to South Korean-controlled islands in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) has sparked anger and public protests in Seoul, which recalled ambassador Kwon Chul-Hyun this week.  The furore began when Japan Monday published new educational guidelines calling on students to have a deeper understanding of their country’s claim to the islands known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea.

    “The worst thing happened at a time when South Korea and Japan need to cooperate as partners in various aspects internationally,” Kwon told reporters.

    He said South Korea has been cooperating with Japan in issues arising in six-party talks such as North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese citizens.

    “If public opinion worsens at home or political circles strongly oppose such cooperation, we have no other choice but to take it into consideration,” Yonhap news agency quoted him as saying.  [AFP]

    Somewhere, Kim Jong Il is smiling. 

    If Occam’s Razor is of any use in explaining this, it means that the current South Korean government is just as infantile, irrational, and emotional as its predecessor.  What is particularly  reprehensible and self-defeating about  South  Korea’s threat  is that by using the abduction issue in this way,  it is functually using North Korean terrorism as a negotiating instrument.  It would do this  notwithstanding the fact that North Korea is committing the same continuing pattern of terrorism against hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of South Koreans who are being held against their will in the North — South Koreans that President Lee Myung Bak until recently feigned interest in bringing home.   

    That, in turn,  would be  further evidence that an alliance with South Korea is not worth the strategic risks it brings for the United States.   In that case,  the United States would be better off not to include South Korea in any regional security framework whose presence it would only gum up with manipulated faux crises at critical moments.   Such an  alliance  has long been needed to deter Chinese expansion or North Korean aggression.  Obvious candidates include Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines, and India.  The essential prerequisites must be that member nations must share our  values and  interests … and our basic rational framework. 

    Of course, Occam’s Razor allows for  the possibility of more complex explanations.  A few have crossed my mind.  For one thing, Japan has recently  declared that it’s opting out of contributing to  any aid package for North Korea until its abducted citizens are accounted for, so it’s questionable whether South  Korea making good on that threat would mean all that much.  After all,  Japan has already functionally seceded from the six-party process, and the U.S. State Department is driving on anyway, with the South Koreans in tow. 

    For another, I’ve suspected for some time that the current South Korean government isn’t entirely fond of our State Department’s total giveaway to the North Koreans, but doesn’t want to say so openly.  Anyone who actually listens to what the North Koreans are saying must realize that Agreed Framework 2.0 isn’t going to disarm North Korea.  If South Korea’s new government  can see the value  of economic pressure in  securing  North Korea’s nuclear disarmament, it must realize that throwing away our leverage won’t help us get Kim Jong Il’s nukes away from him.   You’d think that with advisors as  savvy as Park Jin, the South  Koreans  must realize that the process has descended into an eleventh-hour legacy grasp that will only be an albatross around their necks  after Bush and Rice go off to write their memoirs and leave this problem behind for others to deal with.  Tokdo would seem to be as good an excuse as any to impede that, especially if you’d rather not  antagonize the United States directly.

    On balance, however,  the second-simplest explanation is most likely the closest to being correct:  for unpopular presidents, old-fashioned Jap-baiting  will probably always be  the crack cocaine of South Korean politics.  That means there isn’t room for both countries in the same security framework.  And any side-by-side comparison of the two nations’ wealth, military strength, strategic geography, and political stability makes  it very clear which would be the stronger, more reliable ally.