Archive for Korean Politics

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.

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.”

cheonan-stern.jpg

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.

“Decisive” Evidence Implicates North Korea in Cheonan Sinking

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

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

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

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

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

John Feffer was not available for comment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mad Cow Revisionism


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You say these like they’re bad things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, That Was Nice of You

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

The Jackboot Is on the Other Foot

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

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

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

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