Category Archives: Korean Politics

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.

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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.

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“Decisive” Evidence Implicates North Korea in Cheonan Sinking

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

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

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

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

“While RDX’s composition is similar worldwide, TNT mixtures differ from those used in the United States and England and others used in the former communist bloc,” he said. While South Korean weapons use American-style TNT, North Korea manufactures arms by the Chinese and former Soviet models.

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Mad Cow Revisionism


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

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

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

He also pledged to improve his communication with the people, reshuffle positions in the Cheong Wa Dae (the presidential office in South Korea or Blue House) and Cabinet, and abandon his plans for the Grand Korean Waterway. This was an admission by President Lee that the candlelight vigil demonstrations were not only about the dangers of mad cow disease from U.S.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet the vigorous and outspoken South Korean press informs us that the idea that North Koreans ought to be able to read anything but the pablum spat out by the state’s propaganda mills is “controversial.” Got that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Jackboot Is on the Other Foot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Begin Update — Friends have since filled me in on Babo Noh Moo-hyun.  He apparently got that nickname before he ever became president — for running as a liberal in races for the National Assembly in districts that were conservative, ie, in races he inevitably lost.  It also was used, now somewhat ironically, to say that he would not be corrupted by the machinations and dealing and corruption that is common if not expected in politicians here.  The thinking was along the lines of only a fool *wouldn’t* go down that road.

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I Sense a Great Disturbance in the Force

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Roh Moo Hyun Dead, an Apparent Suicide

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

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

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

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

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Sunshine Death Watch

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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