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29 results found.
When I testified before the House International Relations Committee last September, one of the issues I raised was a report that the South Korean government was funding “civic groups” that habitually engaged in violence (see page 18), including the protests at Camp Humphreys last year. More recently, some of the leaders of those protests, and other violent anti-American protests, have been exposed and indicted as North Korean agents. This should not have surprised anyone.
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.
On Tuesday, I wrote that President-Elect Lee was about to meet with the leaders of South Korea’s largest, most radical, and most violent labor organization — the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. There was, however, the matter of KCTU Chairman Lee Sok-Haeng’s outstanding arrest warrant for an “illegal” rally last October. President-Elect Lee, showing more interest in public order than his predecessor, was not willing to let this slide or grant Chairman Lee the special privilege of being questioned at a neutral location. True to form, the KCTU reacted by threatening a general strike “to cut off power and gas supply and halt the operation of railway and flight operations.” President-Elect Lee might have thought he was applying the rule of law to everyone, even those who use threats and violence to get their way. I swear there is a word for this.
“Lee Myung-bak’s decision to cancel his meeting with me is a declaration of war against us,” Lee Seok-haeng, chairman of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday. [Joongang Ilbo]
Be merry, comrades, for tomorrow, we march on . . . E.Land!
“We have no choice but to counter his [Lee’s] decision in our own way,” Lee Seok-haeng said of the president-elect’s snub. “The first flash bomb will be shot high into the sky from E.Land.
“In our own way.” Which in the recent past has meant (1) beating up the mothers of riot police conscripts, putting at least one of them in the hospital with a serious head injury; (2) leading mass assaults on U.S. military installations while armed with pipes, rocks, and bamboo poles, resulting in hundreds of arrests and injuries; (3) damaging public property during protests and refusing to pay for it; (4) blocking the U.S. Ambassador as he tried to attend a media interview; and (5) arson attacks against strike-breaking truckers. And then there is the KCTU’s juche problem, so eloquently articulated by its then-General Secretary, Kim Tae-Il, in May 2006:
During the May 1 North-South Workers’ Rally in Pyongyang, the workers of North and South agreed to unify to carry out the anti-American struggle”¦ The center of that struggle with the United States is Daechu-ri, Pyeongtaek. [ditto]
The KCTU represents over 750,000 workers, including the Korean Government Employees’ Union, which should make the transition interesting. E.Land businesses on the target list include Homever, New Core and Kim’s Club. The friendly folks from the KCTU will be coming to an E.Land outlet near you (if you’re in Korea) to block customers from entering the stores. Not to worry, though. Another KCTU official promises that “[a]ll our actions will be within the framework of law and order.
All of this makes you wonder just what kind of people are advising Nancy Pelosi, who has agreed to meet with Chairman Lee to be haragued about the evils of the FTA (I also oppose the FTA for reasons which actually have something to do with workers’ rights. This would be a stealth FTA for Kim Jong Il and an open door for his slave-made wares). Now, I doubt Pelosi knows about the KCTU’s history, but would she care if she did? She’s probably used to referring to specimens no less freakish than this as “constituents.” Still, you wonder what standards she does have. An organization with such a pedigree for violence and allegiance to genocidal fascism out to be beneath them.
[Update: More KCTU follies: “We will unite with the workers of the North to fight against the U.S.” Except these workers, I presume.]
The 51-year-old mother of a riot policeman is being treated in the hospital for a serious head injury after being pushed to the ground by union demonstrators while she and a group of other parents were monitoring a protest rally in South Jeolla province, police said. The group demanded an apology yesterday from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.
[Updated 15 Jan 06]
I had meant to say something earlier about how South Korea’s culture of politics-by-thuggery has now touched even the U.S. Ambassador to Korea, Alexander Vershbow.
The Flying Yangban’s observations have inspired me to add more, beyond the expression of my strong agreement with those observations. Finally, after years of watching U.S. ambassadors work the cocktail circuit while the propaganda war was lost in the streets below, a U.S. ambassador has the vision and guts to do the street fighting that needs to be done. This time, the Red Guards blocked him from appearing for an appointment to talk to the far-left Voice of the People.
[M]embers of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions who share an office in the same building barricaded the entrance and held out placards saying “U.S. obstructs reunification.”
. . . .
The KCTU released a statement which read, “We believe the United States is trying to play the progressive press or use it for a political event. Thus we cannot accept (the ambassador’s) visit to Voice of the People that is aligned with the KCTU.”
‘Progressing’ Toward the Tyranny of the Street
The obvious worry of OhMyNews’s Cheong Woon Sik, Korean journalism’s answer to Hwang Woo-Seok, tells us a great deal about Vershbow’s dangerousness to the radical left’s hold on power. Unspin these words; the Red Guards aren’t accustomed to being questioned or challenged on their own turf:
It is rare that a U.S. top envoy to Seoul would contribute to a progressive media outlet. From a broad perspective, this is in line with “Public Diplomacy,” which the Bush administration has enhanced in its attempt to deal with worldwide anti-American sentiment; it can be also viewed as Washington’s countermeasure against South Korea’s growing public opinion which is critical of Ambassador Vershbow’s recent statements.
Cheong, of course, writes for an Internet publication, which means he has no excuse for failing to cite or link one scintilla of support for his last assertion. Nor does he actually take on Vershbow’s assertions of fact, disarmed as Cheong is of research skills or the capacity for deep thinking.
However, this cannot be considered decisive evidence, but simply circumstantial. The U.S. argument that printing machinery and special ink were finally used in the North to produce fake dollars does not go beyond allegation. In addition, the claim that the fake dollars seized by the South Korean government were printed by the North still needs to be verified.
In this situation, the U.S. government is still regarding North Korea’s alleged involvement in counterfeiting and distributing dollars as an established fact and labeling the North a “criminal regime.” This is arousing suspicion that U.S. hardliners may try to use it as a pretext to put the brakes on the peace process on the Korean Peninsula.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that no amount of evidence would ever suffice for the likes of Cheong Woon-Sik. In my response comment on OMN, I note that the evidence was sufficient for both the Chinese government and the South Korean NIS. I’ve catalogued the story of North Korean counterfeiting in some detail at this site. No serious observer doubts it; North Korea’s counterfeiting has been reported for at least a decade. Here’s another Cheongism:
In this context, the current controversy is similar to that surrounding the “highly enriched uranium” (HEU) issue, which was a prelude to the second North Korean nuclear standoff. In October 2002, the Bush administration announced, “North Korea is developing nuclear weapons based on highly enriched uranium.” Since then, three years and two months have passed, but Washington has yet to show any hard evidence.
That statement has been demonstrably false for nearly a year. The Libyans gave us uranium hexafluoride that came from North Korea. We not only intercepted evidence of the Libyan payment to North Korea, we found traces of plutonium on the Libyan casks that matched known samples of North Korean plutonium. More on North Korea’s proliferation activities here.
If Cheong expects us to prove these allegations beyond a reasonable doubt, he should arrange for his friends in Pyongyang to admit investigators and comply with subpoenas.
The Limits of Moderation
What probably scares Cheong about Vershbow is something he can sense better than he can articulate: Koreans, especially young Koreans, are seldom persauded by moderation. Korea’s political culture rewards bold statements and uncompromising belief with the political initiative. A culture is defined by more than a verbal language; one must speak the intellectual language, too. Korea’s undiplomatic intellectual language presents Ambassador Vershow with a difficult problem if he wants to persuade both the people and officals who represent them. Vershbow must be direct without alienating reasonable minds. He must be populist without stooping to obvious demagoguery. Even this will mean he makes enemies, but those enemies will mostly be among those who would have been his enemies anyway. Here, it’s important to remember that persuading people to listen to you is not the same thing as winning their undying love.
The Truth We Must Not Cease Speaking
Alexander Vershbow will be back. Expect nothing less of a man who believes that rock music played a role in bringing down the Iron Curtain (video, too!). The Red Guards have only shown themselves to be street thugs who fear the truth. This is exactly what America must say to the Korean people, even when it is what the Korean government and its radical-left supporters least want to hear. We must strike hard but fair blows against the atrocities in the North, stating facts for which there is substantial evidence, while challenging the North Korean regime to refute the charges with transparency.
We must make direct comparisons between the atrocities in North Korea–atrocities that are aided and abetted by China–and those inflicted on Korea by Japan. We must tell Koreans on both sides of the DMZ how China has turned North Korean women into the comfort women of this century, and how China is transforming North Korea into its colony.
We must talk forthrightly about such unpleasant things as North Korean children in concentration camps, ethnic cleansing by infanticide, gas chambers, and cannibalism.
We must remind the Korean people that the Great Famine, during which the North spent $5 billion on defense per year, killed ten percent of the North Korean population.
We must tell them that nine years of Sunshine have given the people of North Korea no relief from these horrors, and that another nine years of Sunshine will only mean millions more North Koreans dead, more horrors for which they will share a small part of the responsibility.
We must tell the Korean people–North and South–that U.S. forces will leave South Korea the moment a democratically elected government in Korea asks us to do so, no matter how much nervousness that statement may create in the Blue House or the KOSPI.
Vershbow himself may not be the one who does it, but there are plenty of other Americans who can. This is the message we must have the courage to speak, and speak boldly.
Vershbow knows what needs to be done. Whether his bosses at Foggy Bottom understand it is another question, but now that Congress has sent a strong signal of support to Ambassador Vershbow, it may be hard to silence him.
Link to Video of Vershbow’s Freedom House Speech
Thanks to usinkorea for this gem–Ambassador Vershbow’s remarks at Freedom House’s December conference on North Korean human rights in Seoul. He not only has a full transcript of the remarks, he has it all on video!
It is ironic and, at the same time, tragic that the two Koreas stand in stark contrast to one another on either side of the 38th parallel. One is a strong ally of the United States that takes a unique place on the world stage as one of the greatest success stories of the past century. The Republic of Korea rose from the ashes of the Korean War to become the tenth-largest economy in the world. More strikingly, however, South Korea successfully developed from an authoritarian regime to a full democracy in two short decades, an extremely rare accomplishment. The people of South Korea know better than many others in the world the true value of freedom, democracy and human rights. The fact that this conference is taking place here, in Seoul, is a vivid illustration of Korea’s place in the world as a modern democracy.
The same cannot be said, however, of the other half of Korea north of the demilitarized zone. Its people, unlike their southern brethren, remain oppressed by a regime whose policies have failed to address even the most basic needs of its citizens. The people of North Korea are unable to enjoy even the simplest freedoms that we in the free world often take for granted. The DPRK regime fails to ensure the level of access, transparency and cooperation necessary for international aid organizations to deliver food and medicine to those most in need without fear of their being diverted for other purposes. North Koreans, to this day, have no right to vote, to practice religion, to participate in politics, or to speak out against the wrongdoings of their government.
The Thug’s Veto; Where Is the Rule of Law?
This Reuters picture shows a violent KCTU protest from December 2005. Has it occurred to anyone else that had the South Korean government any determination to enforce the rule of law, that the cops would have been there at VOP to make sure Ambassador Vershbow arrived for his interview? I mean, given the KCTU’s history of being a bunch of violent thugs, you’d think that the U.S. Ambassador’s visit to the building housing their headquarters would suggest the need for a substantial police presence.
Of course, that conclusion implies that South Korea is in fact dedicated to allowing free and open debate, unimpeded by violence. And while the South Korean cops are always there to stop people from burning North Korean flags or peacefully demonstrating against a visiting North Korean delegation, they tend to be conspicuously absent or restrained at events like this, and in the enforcement of the law after acts like this, this, and this.
It’s as if they want leftist thugs to silence criticism of North Korea–an attitude that’s not exactly inconsistent with this government’s ideas about freedom of the press.
As we begin rehashing the time-worn policy arguments about responding to a nuclear North Korea, it’s useful to inform those arguments with further evidence of just how Pyongyang is leveraging its nuclear hegemony, by escalating its control over speech in South Korea. Last week, a few of us noticed that KCNA published a “death sentence” against four journalists (two reviewers and two newspaper presidents) over a review of “North Korea Confidential” by James Pearson and Daniel Tudor, asserting further that “the penalties will be enforced at an arbitrary point in time at an arbitrary point, without any additional procedure.”
President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Discuss among yourselves.
I’ve posted the full text of KCNA’s threat below the fold (click “continue reading.”) The threat drew a mild condemnation from Seoul. What, do you suppose, are the odds that KCNA made this threat without the personal approval of His Porcine Majesty? No doubt, Pyongyang found the cover of the Korean edition to be provocative:
I don’t know if the reviewers would have even seen this cover. Pearson, an affable person who has done some excellent investigative journalism about North Korea’s money laundering in Malaysia and Singapore, also sent me a review copy when the book came out in English. My copy doesn’t have that cover. Other authors who’ve sent me review copies have done so by .pdf, and none of those texts showed a cover image. But then, the North Korean judicial system isn’t known for its evidentiary rigor or protections of due process.
Why else might Pyongyang target “North Korea Confidential?” It’s certainly a useful snapshot of how provincial North Korea in 2015 differed from the circa-1985 impression that most foreigners have of its society, culture, and economy, although a regular (or obsessive) Korea-watcher won’t read much there that she hasn’t read somewhere else. The book is hardly an indictment of North Korea’s political system. Pearson and Tudor don’t ignore the existence of the political prison camps or other human rights abuses, but those things aren’t the main focus of their book. They mainly focus on economic and cultural changes in North Korea since the Great Famine, and on evidence supporting the implication (of which I’m skeptical) that these things will necessarily drive political change. In their conclusion, they are “doubtful about the possibility of regime collapse” and skeptical of the proposition that “sanctions could push the DPRK to the breaking point.” They ultimately conclude that “the most likely scenario for North Korea in the short and medium term is the gradual opening of the country under the current regime.”
Of course, things don’t seem to be working out that way. Indeed, Kim Jong-Un’s greatest domestic achievement may be his success in sealing North Korea’s borders and implementing a moderately effective digital censorship regimen, perhaps with the technical assistance of well-meaning engagers here.
None of which is really my point. My point is that compared to any number of other North Korea books one can read in Korean, “North Korea Confidental” is mild stuff. It’s not half as inflammatory, subversive, or acerbic as most of what you might read at this blog, or at B.R. Myers’s Sthele Press. Having mostly finished this post last week, I decided to hold it for a few days while I emailed some other authors to ask whether their works are published in Korean. Professor B.R. Myers informs me that “The Cleanest Race” is; so is Kang Chol-hwan’s “The Aquariums of Pyongyang;” Yeonmi Park’s, “In Order to Live;” and most of Marcus Noland and Stephan Haggard’s books. All of these books are more ideologically dangerous to Pyongyang than “North Korea Confidential.” Why not them?
The key to explaining this, I think, is that the authors themselves were not the targets of this threat; the Korean journalists who reviewed the book’s Korean edition were. And here, we find the makings of a pattern and an escalation, because a reader brings to my attention that KCNA has also published this threat against centrist and right-of-center Korean media — sorry, make that “Puppet Reptile Writers.” Apologies for the long quote, but this is worth reading and archiving in full:
Pyongyang, September 1 (KCNA) — Yonhap News, Chosun Ilbo, Dong-A Ilbo, Maeil Kyongje, Munhwa Ilbo and other vicious conservative media of south Korea professing to represent the south Korean media are speaking ill of the Korean People’s Army’s resolute warning for mounting enveloping fire on Guam and the will of the Korean people to wage death-defying resistance against the U.S. and are unhesitatingly trumpeting about such rhetoric as “enhanced war atmosphere” and “creation of tensions for maintaining social system”.
A spokesman for the Central Committee of the Journalists Union of Korea in a statement Friday says this clearly proves that the puppet conservative media are made up of hack writers, servants of bellicose forces at home and abroad and group of traitors with whom we can not live together.
The Central Committee of the Journalists Union of Korea sternly declares as follows reflecting the towering grudge and hostility of the mediapersons of the DPRK against the puppet conservative media going reckless to hurt the dignity of the DPRK while pointing an accusing finger at the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK:
We will sharpen the just writing brushes to defend our leader, our party and our social system and win a final victory in the confrontation with the U.S.
No matter how loudly the hostile forces may cry out, they can never check the advance of the DPRK dashing toward the bright future of humankind along the straight road of independence, Songun and socialism.
We will track down the puppet conservative reptile writers fostering discord within the nation under the auspices and at the instigation of the anti-reunification forces at home and abroad, and throw overboard all of them.
The puppet ultra-right conservative hack writers without elementary conscience as writers have to be completely stamped out. This is the unanimous will of the mediapersons of the DPRK, and this will be put into practice.
Our grime and merciless pen will sight the bases which commit hideous crimes against the DPRK by spreading misinformation about it, and beat them to pieces.
The puppet conservative media escalating confrontation with the DPRK while dare challenge the annihilating spirit of the army and people of the DPRK will never be able to evade the shower of retaliatory blows. -0- [link]
Let’s call all of this precisely what it is: terrorism. See also Pyongyang’s extraterritorial censorship of “The Interview” in the United States, Europe, and Asia. See also (in no particular order) its series of attempts between 2008 and 2014 to murder North Korean dissidents in exile, its 2012 threat to shell the offices of conservative South Korean newspapers, its 2014 threats against defector-activists who launch leaflet balloons over the DMZ, its approval of the 2015 slashing attack on the U.S. Ambassador, its 2016 threat to murder the President of South Korea, its 2017 threat to murder the ex-President of South Korea and just about anyone who angers it, and its 2017 murder of Kim Jong-Nam in Kuala Lumpur.
I offer that evidence for the benefit of anyone who is tempted to believe the palliative that we can just “learn to live with” a nuclear North Korea, to view our own acknowledgement of Pyongyang’s nuclear status as the end of this crisis, or to find reassurance in the belief that Pyongyang, having achieved nuclear hegemony at such cost, will rest contentedly within its own borders. On the contrary, from now until the end of Kim Jong-Un’s life, every book review, editorial, film, conference, and U.N. vote will be cast as a choice between the offending thoughts, on one hand, and assassination or war on the other. How much of your freedom of thought will you give up for the sake of “peace?” The problem with that question is that no one ever asks it just once.
I have written before about how the generals in Pyongyang believe they can gradually subjugate South Korea into submission and remote control by confederation, rather than attempt to occupy a country with twice its population and many times its wealth. I have written about how Pyongyang’s attempts to censor opinion in South Korea and elsewhere, including the United States and Europe, are at the vanguard of those plans, because Pyongyang knows that to control people, you must first control their thoughts. Pyongyang’s thought control takes many forms, from death threats, to hacking the email of scholars here, to threatening the organizers of conferences. So does the thought control of its simpaticos in South Korea, who use the courts to intimidate refugees, use South Korea’s oppressive libel laws to suppress parliamentary and political speech, send thugs from state-subsidized labor unions to attack their critics, and (as Roh Moo-hyun did) use selective and ideologically motivate tax audits against unfriendly newspapers. And these are just the things we know about.
It may be a complete coincidence that at this moment, Moon Jae-in and the hard-left labor unions are now using threats of criminal prosecution to assert ideological control over Yonhap and other state-owned media. Then again, it may not be a complete coincidence. Whatever this is, it is not “liberal.”
North Korea and the anti-anti-North Korean left in South Korea have many instruments for controlling the thoughts of South Koreans. Recently, I argued how various forms of censorship have gravely damaged South Korea’s liberal democracy and the quality of its political debate. Meanwhile, the fawning coverage that foreign and Korean journalists have given Moon Jae-in is enough to make Kim Jong-un envious of his treatment by KCNA. These are the journalists who are supposed to be the guardians of a free press. But at the critical moment, they are almost as derelict as (though less corrupt than) the Associated Press was when it made its Faustian bargain with the North Korean government. You won’t hear a critical word from the AP about the fact that its business partner just published a threat to murder four fellow journalists. Remember that the next time anyone from the AP makes a self-serving soapbox argument about its important role as a guardian of your freedom (which is exactly what the AP and journalists should be).
As for most foreign and Korean journalists, they’re so personally and ideologically enamored of Moon Jae-in, and so invested in the narrative of Pyongyang as David besieged by Goliath, that they’ve blinded themselves to this partial eclipse of South Korea’s freedoms. Pray that Kim Jong-Un’s Moonshadow Policy is no more successful than Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy was. You can try to reassure yourself that this is South Korea’s problem, but recent history suggests that while the path of totality will eventually cover all of Korea, the path of the partial eclipse will be global. And so far, Pyongyang’s campaign seems to be working. By the way, when was the last time you saw a movie about North Korea? I’ll bet it wasn’t made after 2014.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. [Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19]
Last year, I wrote a post, which I fear is already becoming prescient, about how North Korea could plausibly win the Korean War. In condensed form, the strategy involves Pyongyang leveraging its nuclear, cyber, and chemical weapons supremacy and the South’s political divisions to provoke a series of crises, force Seoul into “peace” talks, and extort it, crisis-by-crisis and negotiation-by-negotiation, into unilateral disarmament, de facto editorial control over its media, the silencing of Pyongyang’s critics, the withdrawal of U.S. forces, and effective domination through a one-country, two-systems confederation. Given the strength of the nationalist faction now vying for control of U.S. foreign policy and the calls from other quarters for peace at any price, all of this could be a fait accompli before most Koreans even knew what had happened, especially if most journalists and editorial writers celebrated a de facto capitulation (as they certainly would) as the end of tensions and a new beginning for peace.
If it all sounds alarmist or even paranoid, consider that humans are accomplished at rationalizing their fears away, especially when the other surroundings of life still seem just as “normal” as they did the day, month, or year before. Although a sympathetic foreign press corps hardly noticed, former President Roh Moo-Hyun (whose Chief of Staff is the current President) had already gone far down the road of subsidizing friendly media and suppressing hostile media. There is also a published road map for this paranoid delusion of mine. The June 15, 2000 Inter-Korean Declaration called for, among other things, a confederation as a predecessor to “to resolve the question of reunification independently and through the joint efforts of the Korean people, who are the masters of the country.” (Update: which sounds much like how B.R. Myers translates the word “juche.”)
Pyongyang already has plenty of ways to enforce its censorship in the South now, including libel suits in which the truth is no defense, attacks by state-subsidized hard-left goon squads, the occasional assassination or threat of assassination, military provocations, and preemptive censorship by South Korean authorities who would (as Park Geun-Hye did) ban “slander” of the North Korean political system to avoid provoking it. To these instruments, Pyongyang recently added nuclear blackmail.
“President Moon has expressed concerns regarding propaganda leaflets to North Korea as a matter that could prompt accidental clashes,” the official at the presidential office told Yonhap News Agency over the phone. “(The president) ordered aides to find ways for clashes to not occur,” the official added.
The remarks were reportedly made during a meeting with senior aides last month after Pyongyang announced it test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile, in an apparent effort to minimize the risks of an inter-Korean conflict amid heightened tensions.
“The president explained past situations in which the North fired anti-aircraft guns towards balloons from the South carrying leaflets and then our military fired return shots,” the official explained, adding that Moon expressed a “considerable amount of concern” towards accidental conflicts.
For years, North Korean defectors in the South and conservative activists have flown the leaflets to the North via balloons to help encourage North Koreans to rise up against the Pyongyang regime. South Korea has said there are no legal grounds to prevent the activists from sending the leaflets, citing freedom of expression. [Yonhap]
This is how free people are tempted to trade liberty for security: Kim Jong-Un’s censorship knows no limits or borders. To submit to it is to forfeit one’s freedom. And if Kim Jong-Un will not disarm peacefully, and if we cannot live with a nuclear North Korea, and if we can neither talk nor bomb nor wait our way out of this crisis, then only spreading the truth to North Korea will set us free from the fear of war.
If Moon moves forward with this, he’ll probably do what authoritarians usually do when they want to censor inconvenient speech — disguise it as the enforcement of some politically neutral regulation, such as against littering, or as some kind of safety regulation. In the U.S., and probably in other legal systems, our courts are alert to this tactic and do not allow state regulations to burden “fundamental” constitutional rights unless they show that the regulation is narrowly tailored to advance a “compelling governmental interest.” And as Professor Lee and I conceded in an op-ed in the New York Times three years ago, moving the launch sites away from populated areas may meet that test and would certainly be prudent. But to ban the launches entirely would be yielding to a particularly flagrant and implicitly violent use of the “heckler’s veto.” It would, in effect, sacrifice a right to nonviolent free speech, which some states recognize as customary international law, in the face of a state’s threats of politically motivated violence against noncombatants (read: terrorism). One need not even ask if Moon would at least demand a reciprocal cessation of North Korea’s leafleting in South Korea.
[A friend of mine found this one on the way home from morning PT formation.]
It is not difficult to see how a series of accommodations like this one could evolve into a dual political system like that in Hong Kong, supervised by a Control Commission of strident North Koreans and pliable South Koreans, steadily rolling back the limits of what speech is permitted, what speech is subsidized, and what speech is verboten. Once Seoul is disarmed (in both a political and a martial sense), events would progress quickly. Of course, the last thing Pyongyang wants right now is to send its impoverished soldiers to occupy a prosperous (or recently prosperous) South. But with sanctions lifted at “peace talks,” the Commission would quickly implement “balanced development of the national economy through economic cooperation,” a South-to-North subsidy of the Pyongyang elites and the North’s “wavering” classes, and the relative impoverishment of the South, to achieve material parity across the DMZ. The two systems would be on a path to become One Slave Korea.
One reason why South Korea is relatively defenseless against this threat is that both the “left” and the “right” censor each other, at the expense of debate, discourse, and the pursuit of objective truth. I’ve tried to be just as strident in criticizing the right when it censored a professor for expressing pro-North Korean views, when soldiers shot and killed a man for trying to swim to North Korea, and when Park Geun-Hye’s government both justifiably prosecuted Lee Seok-Ki and unjustifiably dissolved his entire political party. Politicians on both sides have used libel suits to censor and even jail their political critics — Park Geun-Hye did it, Moon Jae-In did it, and both were illiberal and undemocratic when they did it.
But when “libel” amounts to “you hurt my feelings,” the practice of competent journalism risks professional and financial ruin, and it is safer to wage politics by planting rumors on Naver and MissyUSA comment threads than by making and defending charges against your political opponents openly. Thus, most of the news that’s fit to print is unverified, unverifiable, or simply fake. No wonder foreign journalists complain about standards of Korean journalism (though they seldom identify the causes of this). No wonder political discourse is dominated by rumor and innuendo. No wonder the courts are effectively rubber stamps for trial-by-protest, where crowd counts mean more than rules of evidence or forensic analysis. A society that is unable and unwilling to adjudicate truth is defenseless against the manipulations of its enemies. And when the prevailing view in Korean society is, as Nat Hentoff summarized it, “Free speech for me, but not for thee,” why does Pyongyang’s censorship sit on a lower plane than anyone else’s?
~ ~ ~
I concede that what I’m presenting as plausible seems facially fantastic and conspiratorial. Moon certainly doesn’t seem to fit the part of a Manchurian Candidate; he doesn’t radiate the angry delusions of grandeur of a Jeremy Corbyn and displays none of the boisterous, power-drunk inanity our own president does at times. His very niceness clashes with what his record suggests, and with the evidence of what some of his closest advisors certainly are. Admittedly, Moon is still in his “honeymoon” phase, but press coverage of him gives KCNA’s adulation of Kim Jong-Un a run for its money. Even so, Moon knows that his voters are wary of the North. As Moon supporter Duyeon Kim argues, he is waiting for the right moment to reveal and implement his actual North Korea policy, which is both probably true and profoundly terrifying. Certainly few of the academics and journalists who cover Korea want to believe that what I’m suggesting here is plausible. Nor do I suggest that any of the small limits Moon would put on free speech necessarily means that Korea is careening to the bottom of the slippery slope. All I am saying is that if my worst fears come true, it would all look a lot like this in the beginning.
In 2003, a left-wing human rights lawyer named Roh Moo-hyun fell, moist and unsteady, from the womb of a leftist lawyers’ group called Minbyun (Lawyers for a Democratic Society) into the presidency of the Republic. But Roh’s government was no paragon of liberal democratic virtues. It threatened opposition newspapers with tax audits, and the union goons and radicals it subsidized intimidated their enemies with iron pipes and bamboo poles.
Time and again, Roh’s allies were exposed as North Korean agents of influence, or worse. For the sake of Kim Jong-il’s tender sensitivities, his government overlooked the greatest crimes against humanity in the long history of the Korean nation. There were the disgraceful U.N. abstentions when the U.N. General Assembly voted to condemn human rights abuses in the North, and a callous die-in-place policy toward North Korean refugees. Those policies are consistent with Minbyun’s views, too, but you won’t read anything about them, or about human rights in North Korea, on Minbyun’s blog. That topic has been trotskied out of the approved history.
In 2012, Minbyun very nearly gave the Republic a second president in Moon Jae-in. Another Minbyun alumnus, Mayor Park Won-soon of Seoul, may run for the presidency in 2017. No organization is as identifiable with the elite of South Korea’s political left as Minbyun.
In light of Minbyun’s history of agnosticism about the atrocities in the North, its sudden interest in the welfare of 12 young North Korean women who risked their lives and their families to defect from a regime-run restaurant in China earlier this year seems uncharacteristic, even suspicious. (For reasons that aren’t clear to me, the proceedings of only 12 of the 13 are in contention.)
Minbyun has filed a habeas corpus petition “to check whether the defectors moved to South Korea on a voluntary basis.” It is a question with no evidentiary basis but the North Korean government’s unsupported allegation that South Korea kidnapped them; it’s also what Anna Freud would have called “projection.” Under Korean law, “people housed in state-run facilities” can petition to the courts for their own protection. In this case, however, the refugees aren’t behind that petition. In fact, they’re begging the court to deny it.
What Minbyun demands is nothing less than the right to interrogate 12 terrified refugees whom it doesn’t represent, in open court, in a city where multiple North Korean spies have been arrested for collecting information about refugees, and even for attempting to assassinate the most politically active ones. Pyongyang has also used threats against refugees’ family members to coerce them into going back.
Of course, the notion that Seoul would send abduction squads to China to kidnap North Korean waitresses is so asinine that only the sort of people who still cling to Cheonan conspiracy theories would entertain it. Surely the Chinese authorities would have said something, either at the time or now, if there were anything to it. As Choi Song-min, himself a North Korean refugee, asks in an opinion piece for the Daily NK, just what legitimate purpose could Minbyun’s interrogation possibly have? How long could such a secret be kept in South Korea’s open society after the 13 enter South Korean society to start their new lives? On what basis does it believe the North Korean government’s accusation and disbelieve the South Korean government’s denial? Has it thought through the consequences of forcing the refugees to go on the record publicly?
We’ll get to all of those questions.
The problems with Minbyun’s argument go beyond its illogic and the lack of credible evidence to support it. The claim is legally frivolous. Neither Minbyun, nor the family members of the 12, nor their ventriloquists in the Reconnaissance General Bureau have any standing to intervene in an asylum proceeding. Granting Minbyun’s petition would not only violate the refugees’ internationally recognized right to confidentiality, it would endanger lives. Not only would it endanger the lives of the 12 and their families, it would have a chilling effect on any other future asylum claims by North Koreans in South Korea.
The 12 already have a lawyer, Park Young-sik, from by the law firm of Bae, Kim, and Lee. Park was recommended by the Korean Bar Association, an organization that has long shown a deep concern for the human rights of North Koreans by compiling and publishing book-length scholarly reports on North Korea’s prison camps (I’ve cited them for these pages on North Korea’s prison camps). Park insists that his clients have all told him that they want to stay in South Korea, have no interest in meeting with Minbyun, and want Minbyun to go away and leave them alone. Park has made those representations to the court, and so far, the court has been satisfied with them.
So what business does Minbyun have in intervening? It claims to represent the families of the 13, back in North Korea, using a power of attorney obtained either through an unnamed U.S. citizen in China or a Chinese journalism professor. (The details are vague, although Minbyun certainly didn’t have much trouble finding someone in Pyongyang to authorize its intervention.)
And yes, Park was retained by the South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS), which helped get the Ningpo 13 out of China, but which undoubtedly has a sordid history. Minbyun’s skepticism would be a virtue if it weren’t so selective.
While Minbyun chases Pyongyang’s unsupported abduction claims through the courts in Seoul, it shows its more credulous side to Pyongyang, which recently “allowed an Associated Press Television crew to interview some of the colleagues and parents of the waitresses.” Yet even the AP, which has hardly distinguished itself for questioning Pyongyang’s narratives — it has even used North Korean regime-supplied “journalists” to “interview” subjects — concedes that “it is common for authorities to coach interviewees beforehand to make sure they stay on message.” Even the AP acknowledges that Pyongyang, in making the parents available for an interview, appeared to be “trying to capitalize” on “concerns for family left behind.” Lest there be any doubt about Pyongyang’s game: “[O]ur leader Kim Jong Un is waiting for you, parents and siblings are waiting for you, please come back.”
Later, after the twelve young women exercised their legal right not to be hauled into court for committing no crime, citing the fear of “possible reprisals against their relatives in North Korea,” Minbyun demanded that the judge be replaced
because he’s a Mexican because he denied their frivolous attempt to abuse the legal process to terrorize twelve brave, frightened young women.
All in the name of human rights, of course.
I should explain why I call Minbyun’s case “frivolous.” When countries ratify treaties, they give those treaties preemptive effect over national law. The relevant treaty here is the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention which, along with its 1967 protocol, provides certain legal protections to refugees. South Korea has ratified both documents, and international law has recognized that the absolute confidentiality of asylum applications is one of those legal protections. Here’s how our own government applies it, and here’s how the U.N. High Commission for Refugees explains it:
2.1 Confidentiality in UNHCR RSD Procedures
2.1.1 The Applicant’s Right to Confidentiality
• The confidentiality of UNHCR RSD procedures is essential to creating an environment of security and trust for asylum seekers who approach UNHCR. All UNHCR staff, including interpreters and security staff, as well as any implementing partners, counsellors or medical practitioners who provide services to asylum seekers and refugees under agreement with UNHCR, are under a duty to ensure the confidentiality of information received from or about asylum seekers and refugees, including the fact that an individual has registered or is in contact with UNHCR.
• UNHCR standards regarding the confidentiality of information about asylum seekers and refugees should be incorporated into RSD procedures in every UNHCR Office, and should be understood by all UNHCR staff and any other individuals who are responsible for implementing the RSD procedures. Specific recommendations for ensuring confidentiality in each stage of the RSD procedures are proposed in the relevant sections of this document.
• Applicants for RSD should be informed of their right to confidentiality in UNHCR procedures. Any limits on the right to confidentiality, including information sharing arrangements with host country authorities or resettlement countries where applicable, should be explained to the Applicant (see § 2.1.3 – Disclosure to Host Country Authorities). Applicants should also be advised that the UNHCR Offices may share information with UNHCR Headquarters or other UNHCR Offices.
• Applicants should be assured that UNHCR will not contact or share any information regarding the Applicant with the country of origin, unless expressly authorized to do so by the Applicant. [UNHCR]
Given that Minbyun claims to represent the family members in North Korea, presumably, it intends to tell those family members what its questioning reveals. Whatever Minbyun tells the family members, they’ll certainly tell their own interrogators in Pyongyang. What Minbyun knows, Pyongyang also knows, in clear violation of the refugees’ internationally recognized right to confidentiality. Surely Minbyun is well aware of this right, although I’ve yet to find a journalist who has reported it. Not a single reporter who covered this story — not the New York Times’s consistently biased Choe Sang-hun, not one of the three NK News reporters who covered it, and none of the conservative papers that defended the NIS’s position — has cited or referred to this inviolable right.
Minbyun points out that Pyongyang already knows who the 12 are, so what’s the harm? Park Young-sik answers that question with a question of his own: “What’s going to happen for a defector’s family if the defector’s motivation and process of defection is revealed?”
“They believe that their families’ lives will be threatened if they openly testify that they fled the North of their own free will,” Park said. “They don’t want to be exposed openly in the media and draw attention, and they don’t want to appear in court,” Park added. “In this situation, forcing them to appear and testify in open court might seriously infringe their human rights.” [Chosun Ilbo]
The moment Minbyun gains the right to interrogate the 12, lives will be in danger. If they’re forced to reaffirm their asylum claims in public, Minbyun will have succeeded in winning its “clients” a slow death in the gulag. If, knowing and fearing this, the 12 publicly renounce their asylum claims, they’ll be sent back to North Korea and a dark, uncertain fate. And if Minbyun establishes a precedent that it has a right to interrogate refugees every time Pyongyang trots out a terrified family member as a cat’s-paw plaintiff, no North Korean refugee would ever dare to enter South Korea again.
“The North’s claim is absurd in that it could dismantle the system of North Korean defectors’ entry into the South and their protection.” Unification Ministry spokesman Chung Joon-hui said, “The North Korean waitresses are undergoing the due course for legal protection, which is designed to support their settlement in South Korean society.”
“If this is how it works, whenever North Korean defectors come to South Korea, and if someone who claims that he or she has been commissioned by the defectors’ families in the North file a lawsuit, the court should determine whether those defectors voluntary defected or not. It is like conducting collective interrogation of the defectors in public before North Korea,” a South Korean government source said. “If so, we doubt whether any North Koreans will dare to defect to the South.” [Joongang Ilbo]
The practical effect of this? South Korea would have effectively renounced the Refugee Convention, at least with respect to refugees from North Korea.
To the extent anyone entertains Pyongyang’s spurious claims, as Minbyun does, there is a safe and easy way to resolve them. South Korea could (and should) let a UNHCR representative interview the 12. The representative could submit an affidavit attesting to their decision in a closed proceeding. The court should then deny Minbyun’s motion, seal the record, and reiterate that courts will continue to honor the confidentiality of asylum proceedings. If Minbyun were sincere, that’s exactly what it would have asked the court to do. Of course, it would have no right to know who the refugees met with. The very fact that a refugee has contacted a UNHCR representative is confidential.
In fact, for all we know, that meeting has already happened.
[From the Ministry of Unification, via NK News]
The latest word is that the 12 have filed a complaint with local prosecutors that Minbyun is violating the National Security Law. That’s not the strategy I’d have chosen, because it plays right into Minbyun’s nostalgia of victimhood, but then, I’m not a terrified young refugee from North Korea, either. Just try to imagine the terror, heartache, and confusion these young women must be feeling right now. It does cause me to wonder whether South Korea has an attorney licensing authority to discipline lawyers who file unethical motions to abuse the process, and who are waging a cynical campaign of lawfare against 12 vulnerable and terrified young refugees. Minbyun’s lawyers probably shouldn’t be jailed, but they should be disbarred.
The best thing you can say about Minbyun is that it doesn’t give two shits who it gets killed or sent to a prison camp. But then, Minbyun never gave Shit One about the prison camps anyway. Its lawyers can’t be complete idiots, especially lawyers clever enough to create such a terrifying paradox. They must know exactly the danger they’re putting these people in. Everyone from government officials to editorial writers to refugees to Park Young-sik has explained it for them. But of course, if Minbyun is deliberately trying to terrorize refugees, no amount of explanation will discourage them. That’s clearly Pyongyang’s aim, and that’s who’s controlling Minbyun’s “clients.”
Viewing Minbyun’s motives this way has the advantage of making more sense than any other explanation. The defection of the Ningpo 13 wasn’t just a tremendous embarrassment to Pyongyang, it’s a threat to the very stability of the regime. A group defection of a dozen vetted daughters of the Pyongyang elite is so unprecedented — so unthinkable — that it threatens to become a preference cascade by other members of the elite. The defection of the Ningpo 13 was followed by a smaller group defection from another restaurant, an astonishing mass protest by 100 North Korean workers in Kuwait, the defection of two other workers in Qatar, and most recently, rumors of yet another group defection from China. This, despite Pyongyang’s redoubling of the indoctrination of its overseas slaves and extra precautions to keep them under control.
In its desperation to make examples and prevent further outbreaks of dissent, Pyongyang fulminated, threatened, and transparently tried to use the refugees’ loved ones as hostages. What Pyongyang needs now, as if its survival depends on it, is stooges with briefcases who would discard all notions of legal ethics, abuse the legal process to pervert international law, and perhaps, terrorize other North Korean refugees away from South Korea. It looks like Pyongyang has found its stooges. So give yourself a big fucking hand, Minbyun.
Just remember to wash them well afterward.
Last week was a tough week for Park Geun-hye, when her party lost its majority in the National Assembly. The simplest explanation for this is that historically, ruling parties usually take beatings in mid-term elections, particularly when their own voters don’t show up to vote. The ruling party may poll well in the abstract, but a party that enters an election divided is likely to underperform expectations.
Republicans, take note. And don’t look so smug, Democrats.
Something like this appears to have happened in South Korea this week, but I suspect that economics and quality-of-life issued mattered, too. For decades, South Korea’s economy has been based on a model in which the working classes toiled, sacrificed, and saved to develop its economy into a vibrant and prosperous one. A little research quickly confirms one’s anecdotal observation that Korea’s public policies are still a relic of that era. Obviously, South Korea’s society and economy have changed dramatically since Park Chung-hee was President. Its human development index is now higher than that of France, Finland, or Belgium, yet its average wages are lower, and its disposable income is significantly lower, due to its high cost of living. This, despite the fact that Koreans work more hours than in almost any other OECD country, and despite Korea having one of the OECD’s highest rates of fatal industrial accidents.
As human development rises, people naturally expect more from life. The “Hell Chosun” narrative can sound pathetic and whiney coming from a country that, after all, shares a peninsula with North Korea, but South Koreans who expect more of that thing we like to call work-life balance still have a point. Why, for example, do South Korean companies still expect people to show up to work on Saturdays, especially after staying out late enabling their boss’s drinking habits?
With the probability that the new National Assembly will frustrate Park’s plans for economic and labor “reforms” — and there is no more dangerously misused manipulation in our political lexicon than the word “reform” — Park isn’t going to be able to bust unions and lower trade barriers for the remainder of her time in office. One can reject the repellent political views of some of South Korea’s unions and still believe that as a general matter, unions play an important role in giving workers a voice for better pay and working conditions, things that are very much on the minds of young South Koreans today.
In time, Park may come to see this loss as a gift. Her economic agenda might have been good for South Korea’s economy in the short term, but politically, it would have been a fast drive into a hard wall. Few South Koreans will miss it. Over the long term, ultra-free-market policies also create classes of losers. In this country, they’re currently voting for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in droves, ironically threatening to overturn the very principles that made America great. Park’s policies, too, might have been exceedingly controversial going into the next election. Even in the minority, the opposition would have stood a good chance of blocking them and riding their obstructionism to victory in the next election.
Saenuri leaders who haven’t resigned have been holding crisis meetings about the future of their party, and Park has to be wondering whether her legacy will be the Sewol Ferry disaster. It doesn’t have to be so. American presidents — most famously, Richard Nixon, and most recently, Barack Obama — have historically turned outward when hostile congresses frustrated their domestic agendas. Park isn’t going to have a strong legislative legacy, but she can claim one really significant accomplishment — the North Korea human rights law that passed, just in the nick of time. Park should implement that new law as liberally as her country’s canons of construction allow.
Only this year, we saw the first signs that Park had shed her cautious exoskeleton and shown us some spine. She finally began to pupate into a leader, and her leadership on North Korea has been the brightest spot in her generally lackluster popularity. Koreans don’t find Park very likable, but they liked the way Park handled Kim Jong-un last August, and they supported her when she shut down Kaesong, a scam that remained popular years after it had manifestly failed to achieve its stated purposes. It makes good political sense, then, for Park to spend the remainder of her term capitalizing on her strength—her emergence as a national, and global, leader in responding to a rising North Korean threat.
South Korea’s own unilateral sanctions are important to this symbolically and diplomatically, but they will not be the policy that records Park’s destiny in Korean history. Yes, South Korea’s sanctions can help seal the leaks in a global sanctions regime, and enforcing sanctions gives Park the credibility to ask other states to do the same, but South Korea lacks America’s unique financial power. Its unique power is a far greater thing — the power of nationhood and national legitimacy. President Park is the only elected (and therefore, legitimate) leader of the Korean nation, and the South Korean Constitution claims the entire Korean Peninsula as its territory.
Thus, if South Korea marshals its considerable technological talents and finds a way to open communications directly with its citizens north of the Imjin River, North Korea cannot long resist the changes that its downtrodden have steadily advanced, despite the regime’s efforts to stifle them. Forget loudspeakers — Seoul should open south-to-north broadcasting on the medium wave band, and build a string of cell phone towers along the DMZ to open the channels of direct engagement to Koreans north of the DMZ.
Then, Park should do something truly historic. This year, on the August anniversary of Korea’s liberation from colonial rule, Park should address the people of North Korea. She should tell them that they are her countrymen, too. She should tell them in unambiguous terms how Kim Jong-un has squandered their food, their money, and their sweat to support a bloated military, a system that terrorizes them, and an opulent lifestyle for which no more evidence is needed than His Corpulency’s omnipresent moonscape. She should tell them that even as she sanctions his regime to slow his capacity to terrorize Koreans on both sides of the DMZ, she will also do everything in her power to ease their suffering.
One way to do this will be to ease restrictions on remittances sent by the refugee diaspora to their families back inside North Korea. She can ask churches and NGOs to use these family bonds to fund informal clandestine networks inside North Korea to get food, medicine, medical care, and news to those who need it most. She can continue to push the United Nations and its member states to hold North Korea’s leaders accountable for crimes against humanity. She can urge other U.N. member states to freeze the assets that are misspent for weapons and luxury goods, and increase pressure on the regime to accede to humanitarian reforms.
In doing so, Park can become a leader to all Koreans, and begin Korea’s long-overlooked preparations for reunification by rebuilding the broken foundations of North Korea’s civil society. She can give Koreans north of the Imjin River what they’ve never had — the knowledge that a legitimate Korean government has not forgotten them when their need is greatest. Park would also be building a legacy for her own party. After all, although most Asian-American and Latino voters tend to vote Democratic, Cuban-Americans and Vietnamese-Americans still vote Republican. Undoubtedly, this reflects the sense that in their hour of greatest need, the Republicans stood in solidarity with them.
More than ever, one senses that the current trends in North Korea cannot continue for long. Kim Jong-un has demonstrated ineptitude as a leader, both domestically and internationally. He may be gone in two months or five years, but it’s hard to see how his misrule, with its dependence on hard currency from abroad, survives a growing, self-inflicted international isolation for much longer than this. Reunification could be a moment when South Korea absorbs 23 million traumatized, alienated, and restive people. How much better it would be if instead, reunification begins with the hopeful sense among North Koreans that their new government will lead them toward the things that Pyongyang has so long denied them — rice, peace, and freedom.
Twenty years of state-to-state engagement between North and South Korea have not lived up to Kim Dae-Jung’s promises. Pyongyang has taken Seoul’s money, nuked up, and periodically attacked South Korea for good measure. Rather than reforming, it has invested heavily in sealing its borders. Pyongyang sustains itself on foreign hard currency, even as it cuts off the flow of people, goods, and information to its underprivileged classes. It knows that if it fails to do this, members of those classes will achieve financial, material, and ideological independence from the state.
In their efforts to seal the borders, the North Korean security forces’ principal targets have been the Chinese cell phones whose signals can cross a few miles into North Korea, and which provide North Koreans with their last fragile link to the outside world. Today, there is a real danger that this link will be cut, and that the market-driven changes in North Korean society — changes driven by the people, despite the government’s attempts to suppress them — will cease.
Now, imagine if signals from South Korean cell providers began spreading across the DMZ into North Korea, with steadily expanding ranges. You saw how Pyongyang reacted to loudspeaker propaganda, which reached a few thousand conscripts at best. Imagine the subversive potential of North Koreans being able to call their relatives in the South directly, reading the Daily NK on smart phones, sending photographs or video of local disturbances to Wall Street Journal reporters, or downloading religious pamphlets from South Korean megachurches. Small beginnings like these could be profoundly transformational. If, eventually, North Koreans gain the ability to talk to each other, free of the state’s interference, these beginnings could become the foundations of a new civil society in North Korea. That could vastly mitigate the chaos and cost of reunification.
And yet, Seoul hesitates to allow this kind of people-to-people engagement, ostensibly because it is paralyzed by paranoia that North Korean spies would also use this network.
South Korean police expressed concerns over the national security implications of mobile phone conversations between North Korean defectors in the South and their relatives in the North.
A police official who spoke to South Korean press on the condition of anonymity said the security concerns call for the passage of a law at the National Assembly that could step up surveillance, South Korean outlet Financial News reported on Friday.
Many North Korean defectors who have resettled in the South keep in contact with their families, who are able to circumvent North Korea regulations through the use of Chinese mobile phones. One unidentified woman defector said she calls her family in the North 3 or 4 times a week, to confirm money transfers through a broker based in China. [….]
Police officials in Seoul are saying the conversations between family members can leak sensitive information that can pose a threat to South Korea’s national security, but amendments to Seoul’s Protection of Communications Secrets Act could reduce risks. [UPI]
But given the frequency with which North Korean agents are exposed in the South — just keep scrolling — the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the United Front Department, and their assortment of spies, street thugs, slashers, hackers, assassins, agents of influence, and fifth columnists in the South seem to be the only North Koreans who aren’t having trouble with “inter-Korean engagement.”
It’s a silly, short-sighted paranoia that’s tantamount to refusing to treat a disease for fear of the treatment’s side effects. The answer to spies using the phones is called law enforcement. More broadly, if Seoul doesn’t want to deal with North Korean espionage and influence operations in perpetuity, it should open a second front in Kim Jong-Un’s information war, and start running a few information operations of its own.
One of the most important uses of inter-Korean phone links could be their use for money transfers. Plenty of families in the North rely on those remittances to survive, or to start small businesses that provide for their families. Seoul has been ambivalent about these remittances, too:
South Korea technically bans the transfers, but an official at Seoul’s Ministry of Unification, which handles North Korea policy, says that the government has little incentive to stop the remittances.
“They fall into a gray area,” said the official, requesting anonymity because he was unauthorized to speak about the policy on record. “We always say no money should be sent to North Korea in case it is diverted for military purposes. But in this case, we’re not talking about huge amounts. And it’s for humanitarian purposes. So long as that’s the case, we won’t pursue it.” [WaPo, Chico Harlan, Feb. 2012]
Seoul has even fretted that small-time remittances from North Korean refugees to their families back home might violate international sanctions. Which is an argument that takes a lot of chutzpah, if you contemplate the millions of dollars Seoul pours into Pyongyang through the Kaesong Industrial Park each year.
South-to-North remittances have always been risky and expensive. Remitters charge commissions as high as 30%. Today, with Kim Jong-Un’s information crackdown on illegal calls over the Chinese border, money transfers often require North Korean family members and remitters to risk their lives:
In May this year, a North Korean defector in her 40s took a call from an unknown number at her office in the South Korean capital Seoul.
It was from her brother, who she had not seen for more than a decade, calling illegally from North Korea after tracking her down.
He was speaking from a remote mountainside near the border with China, and was in dire need of money to help treat another sister’s late stage cancer, she said.
Accompanied by a Chinese broker, the brother had spent five hours climbing up the mountain, avoiding North Korean security and desperately searching for a signal on a Chinese mobile telephone. Contact with anyone in the South is punishable by death in North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated states. [Reuters, Ju-Min Park, July 2012]
Defectors objected strongly to a 2011 proposal by Seoul to require licenses for South-to-North remittances. Personally, I’m not sure that a licensing procedure is such a bad idea, if it’s administered efficiently. Licensing can help prevent South Koreans from sending money to government officials — and maybe even spy-handlers — while channeling legitimate remittances through the more honest and reliable remitters.
To ease the burden of the new red tape, Seoul might consider a new way to reduce the cost of a remittance, say, by allowing direct South-to-North transfers that don’t have to run through Chinese banks or Chinese cell phones:
Consortiums led by information technology service giants Kakao Corp. and KT Corp. won a preliminary license to launch South Korea’s first Internet-only bank Sunday, the financial regulator said, opening the new business market in the long-slumping banking industry. [Yonhap]
The online bank will start operation by next June, and will team up with KakaoTalk, which is already gaining popularity with North Koreans because of its anonymity and functionality with weak signals. North Koreans already use Kakao to arrange money transfers from South Korean banks to clandestine North Korean hawaladars.
The FSC said Kakao Bank has an innovative business plan with broader customer lists based on KakaoTalk, which has more than 34 million members.
Kakao is already running mobile payment tools such as KakaoPay and BankWalletKakao.
K-Bank is initiated by KT, the largest fixed-wire operator. Its partners involve No. 1 bank Woori Bank, leading IT solution provider Nautilus Hyosung Inc., GS Retail Co. and Hyundai Securities Co. [Yonhap]
For the last 20 years, South has poured $7 billion in no-questions-asked aid and favorable trade arrangements into Pyongyang’s coffers, blithely unaware of how Pyongyang was spending that money. As far as Seoul knows, Pyongyang used some of that money to nuke up. Yet in the name of “engagement” with Kim Jong-Il, Seoul took bold risks to draw North Korea into the global economy and gradually induce it to disarm and reform. It didn’t work, but the money still flows.
Today, however, Seoul is afraid to take a chance on the kind of people-to-people communications that are changing North Korea profoundly. If those communications become regular and safe, suddenly, they start to sound like the first steps in a plausible plan to keep the Sunshine Policy’s gauzy promises about engagement, change, reform, and reunification.
One of the most bipartisan political traditions in South Korea’s young democracy is the tendency of its presidents to use tax audits, prosecutions, libel suits, and state-subsidized street violence to censor their political opponents. This has always been wrong, but in America, our condemnation of it has always been selective.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Kim Dae Jung used tax audits to harass conservative newspapers. His successor, the leftist* Roh Moo Hyun, sued four right-wing newspapers for $400,000 each over what Roh called “comprehensive, persistent and massive defamation of my character that, not as president but as a human being, caused me psychological agony hard to express in words.” Roh tried to pass a media ownership law to shrink the right-wing press, used state funds to subsidize newspapers that supported him, and subsidized union goons and street thugs who intimidated and attacked his political opponents, and critics of North Korea’s human rights abuses. During rightist President Lee Myung’s term, the police arrested the members of a harmless left-wing fringe party.
Park Geun Hye has continued this thuggish tradition by dissolving (admittedly fringe) political parties, decertifying (admittedly extreme) labor unions, and prosecuting people for (non-violently) praising North Korea—all actions I criticized as they happened.
On top of this, Yonhap now reports that the South Korean government is preventing a U.S. citizen, Shin Eun-Mi, from leaving the country (update: and issued her a summons) because of “an investigation into her alleged pro-North Korean remarks” on talk shows while in South Korea. Ironically, if the state had allowed Ms. Shin to fly back to her life of well-deserved obscurity, I’d neither know nor care who she was, and neither would you. Censorship only really works when totalitarians do it. Anywhere else, it’s not just bad policy, it’s the tool of imbeciles who can’t win arguments, and who almost always lose them without saying a word.
None of this is what just caused The Washington Post to declare a censorship crisis in South Korea, however. That happened because President Park filed libel suits against “media outlets that run reports it considers unfavorable.” Ironically, The Post now quotes the editors of left-wing Hankyoreh Shinmun, which suckled contentedly at Roh Moo Hyun’s nipples for the duration of his chokehold on the Chosun Ilbo and the Joongang Ilbo. Today, the editors of the Hanky call Park Geun Hye “shameless,” which is an interesting word choice for them.
President’s Park’s abuse of South Korea’s cumbrous libel laws is indefensible and stupid. It’s also incorrect to suggest that it’s a crisis. Crisis implies rapid deterioration. This is the extension of a long, bipartisan precedent. Worse, to suggest that this is only troubling because the person doing it inherited an X chromosome from Park Chung Hee misses the point widely:
This is sparking even more unflattering comparisons for the president. “Park Geun-hye is taking a page from her dictator father’s playbook,” said Peter Beck, a Korea expert at the New Paradigm Institute in Seoul. [Washington Post, Anna Fifield]
No, she isn’t. Park Chung Hee locked dissidents away for years and sometimes unjustly executed them. To compare such unequal wrongs smacks of false equivalence and dishonors the dissidents who fought for democracy during Park Chung Hee’s regime.
This isn’t the only serious error with Beck’s analogy. By ignoring the bipartisan tradition of “democratic” censorship in South Korea, Beck misses the issue of what reforms are needed to end these abuses and advance South Korea’s evolution toward open democracy. I know and like Peter Beck, and I hope he still likes me after he reads this post, but I don’t remember him taking note of any of the censorship of the left when it was happening. For that matter, the international media seldom noticed or remembered it, either. Nor has it shown much concern that the left’s goon squads are still turning out to censor freedom of expression today, while the left-wing opposition tries to do the same thing by legislative fiat.
As bad as all of that may be, none of it is the second coming of Park Chung Hee. It’s a different problem that requires different answers.
Park Geun Hye’s actions today are just part of a continuum in a political culture that doesn’t respect freedom of speech or protect it with content-neutral laws. South Korea’s transition to democracy did not end the tendency of its politicians, corporations, and government agencies to censor embarrassing speech; it merely changed their methods of censorship.
In the United States, we’ve long recognized the potential for libel suits to be abused to suppress public debate. In 1964, the Supreme Court decided New York Times v. Sullivan, which raised the standard for a libel suit by a “public figure” to survive a motion to dismiss. Even then, the cost of legal fees to defend a suit can suppress free expression, which is why many states have anti-SLAPP acts that require losing plaintiffs to pay the legal fees of winning defendants. If Korea’s left and right are serious about ending the abuse of libel suits, they should amend their libel laws to provide similar protections. Failing that, Korean courts should impose them as a matter of constitutional law.
I suppose the United States hasn’t set the best example for the apolitical integrity of tax audits, but I’d offer three suggestions to limit the problem. First, a state that can’t tax protected activities fairly should exempt them from taxation entirely. Second, every democracy needs a robust equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act, to allow citizens to obtain and publish government records. In the U.S. legal system, to the extent that those records show that an official violated an individual’s constitutional rights, the citizen can sue the official in his individual capacity and recover damages.
Finally, when political organizations use force or violence to suppress their opponents, governments shouldn’t subsidize them, they should sue them under anti-racketeering laws, and allow the victims of their violence to sue for conspiracy to violate their civil rights.
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* This left-right stuff never worked for me as a descriptor of political polarity in the U.S. It also works rather badly for South Korea. “Radicals” and “reactionaries” is still too simplistic. I wish I could think of a better alternative.
Since the weekend, several of you have e-mailed me about “suspicions” — and really, I don’t think they went further than that — that North Korea may have hacked Sony Pictures and leaked unreleased movies to file sharers to punish it for “The Interview.” Those rumors were covered by many outlets, but frankly, the open-source evidence for North Korea’s complicity was little more than speculation, at least until I read this today:
Hackers who knocked Sony Pictures Entertainment’s computer systems offline last week used tools very similar to those used last year to attack South Korean television stations and ATMs, people briefed on the investigation said.
The similarity would reinforce a hunch among some investigators, which include Sony, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a team from Silicon Valley security company FireEye Inc., that North Korea played a role in the breach at the film and television studio, one of the largest in the U.S. South Korea publicly blamed the 2013 attacks on North Korea. [….]
Sony Pictures is set to release this month “The Interview,” a comedy in which U.S. spies enlist a television host played by James Franco and his producer, played by Seth Rogen, to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. In June, a spokesman for the Pyongyang government said distribution of the movie would be “the most undisguised terrorism and a war action” and threatened a “strong and merciless countermeasure” if the U.S. government “patronizes the film.” [Wall Street Journal]
It’s hardly proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but it’s something. Interestingly, “The Interview” wasn’t one of the Sony films the hackers leaked — not yet, anyway. For now, Sony Pictures continues to deny that it has direct knowledge of North Korea’s involvement. As I noted here, Sony was previously reported to have made changes to the script to appease the North Koreans. So much for appeasing North Korea, although South Korea seems congenitally incapable of learning that:
“The Interview,” a North Korea-themed satire starring actors Seth Rogen and James Franco, won’t be released in South Korea, a Seoul-based official for Sony Pictures Entertainment said. [….]
South Korean media reports cite a Sony Pictures Korea official as saying the distributor never had plans to release the film due to concerns about inter-Korean relations. A Sony Pictures official declined to comment on the reasons behind the decision not to show the film in South Korea. [WSJ Korea Real Time, Jeyup S. Kwaak]
Cowards. Kwaak’s post notes that South Korean state censors prevented “Team America” from being screened in South Korea, but doesn’t link the suppression of “The Interview” to government censorship. One possibility is that the ROK government asked Sony very politely. Another is that Sony anticipated that the usual gang of pro-North Korean thugs and thought police would try to disrupt screenings.
And what recourse does Sony have against the hackers, assuming it can prove that North Korea was responsible? Hacking is a federal felony, and an attack on a U.S.-based computer system would arguably give the feds subject-matter jurisdiction. If the Justice Department prosecutes, it probably wouldn’t find any live bodies to stick in the dock, but because hacking is a predicate offense for money laundering, DOJ would still be able to forfeit assets of anyone the court convicted. Not that that would do Sony much good.
Sony might be able to sue North Korea by taking advantage of several exceptions to North Korea’s sovereign immunity under 28 U.S.C. 1605(a). Collecting the judgements, of course, would be another matter entirely. Just ask any of the lawyers who won these judgments.
More interesting, however, are suspicions that the hackers may have been operating out of China, which isn’t a novel theory. That almost certainly couldn’t happen without the knowledge of the Chinese government and other Chinese entities, perhaps including entities with assets that could be reached by U.S. courts.
This suggests that a more fruitful legal strategy may be for the feds to prosecute, and for parties like Sony to sue, the Chinese enablers. There are even indications that our government might have the political will do to that. The new Congress could also require the Director of National Intelligence to report on China’s sponsorship of North Korean hacking. Unclassified portions of that report might provide useful evidence for Sony’s case.
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Update: One reason Sony Pictures might not go after the hackers’ Chinese enablers is that Hollywood has been too preoccupied welcoming its new Chinese overlords and sucking up to its new censors. I thought it was bad enough when Sony Pictures bent over for Japan’s censorship; wait till you see what stultifying delights the Chinese have in store for us.
And the unlikely hero of this alarming and underreported controversy? Oliver Stone, himself a suspected disseminator of KGB propaganda, naturally. So I guess the wounds from the Stalin-Mao rift are still raw in some quarters. Hat tip to a reader.
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Update 2: According to this report by U.S. Army Major Steve Sin, a defector reported that as of 2004, members of a North Korean military hacker unit called Unit 121 conducted “some of its operations from a North Korean government-operated hotel called Chilbosan in Shenyang, China.” Business Insider sent a reporter there (Update: or, horked the pictures online; see comments) to see what the hotel looks like today.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. [Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19]
In America, we have grown accustomed to a political polarity in which we associate “left” with “liberal.” Whatever the merits of that correlation here, it’s useless to any understanding of politics in South Korea, where very few people on either side of the political spectrum can be described as liberal, and the only real candidate for that description — at the least the only candidate I can offer — is a member of the “right” Saenuri Party. For the most part, the Korean right has never overcome the authoritarian reputation Park Chung-Hee and Chun Doo-Hwan gave it, and the arrival of democracy did not mean the end of the old right’s use of an overbroad National Security Law to censor nonviolent speech that wiser men would have held up to ridicule and criticism instead.
Meanwhile, the Korean left seems to have dedicated itself to justifying the continued need for the National Security Law, and to making its own criticism of the NSL, however legitimate in isolation, seem hypocritical in the broader context.
In the history of “democratic” South Korea, it is the left that has been responsible for the most pervasive and pernicious censorship. During the Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun years, the Korean left censored human rights activists, refugees, newspapers, and playwrights, acting as Pyongyang’s thought police in the South. To the extent Minju-dang and Uri governments didn’t directly censor criticism of Kim Jong Il, they effectively practiced vicarious censorship, standing by while left-wing unions and “civic” groups used violence to suppress it. They even subsidized the unions and civic groups that were responsible for the worst of the street violence.
In many cases, the Korean left’s political leanings have been exposed as illiberal or totalitarian. On more occasions than I could ever describe here, members of “left” parties, and the civic groups and labor unions that support them, have been caught propagating Pyongyang’s ideology or acting as its agents for espionage — even violent attacks in support of a putative North Korean invasion.
Thus, what American and European liberals almost always get wrong about the Korean left is how illiberal it is, and how little it has in common with them. The Korean left lacks the liberal passion for protecting the vulnerable. American liberals want to lift restrictions on immigration and spare illegal immigrants from deportation; the South Korean left despises North Korean refugees and heaps abuse on them. It would rather let them die in place than offend Pyongyang by letting them in. Euro-American liberals loathe racism and nationalism; the Korean left propagates and exploits them. Euro-American labor unions fight for decent pay and working conditions globally; the Korean left supports the slavery and exploitation of its fellow Koreans at Kaesong. Traditionally, Euro-American liberals stood for freedom of expression. The Korean left would sacrifice the right of South Koreans to speak nonviolently, and of North Koreans to freedom of information, to appease the totalitarians in Pyongyang:
The main opposition party on Wednesday proposed a bill requiring government approval to send propaganda leaflets to North Korea as part of efforts to help ease simmering inter-Korean tensions.
The move by the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) comes as South Korean activists’ sending of balloons with anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border has been a source of inter-Korean rows and tensions.
Pyongyang has urged Seoul to block such activities, while Seoul insists it has no legal ground to regulate their “freedom of speech.”
According to the revision bill to the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act proposed by Rep. Yoon Hu-duk of the NPAD, currencies, leaflets and any printed materials shall be added to the category of goods that need to be approved by the unification ministry before they can be sent across the inter-Korean border.
It also stipulates that the minister must give the go-ahead “to unspecified individuals with mobile equipment, including balloons,” before they can be launched.
The revision bill would also ban the unification minister from giving the green light to sending items into North Korea that “could cause legitimate concerns of hurting inter-Korean exchange and cooperation.”
“The leaflet campaign has hampered the recent thawing inter-Korean mood and posed threats to the safety of the people residing near the border regions,” Rep. Yoon said.
Criticizing the Seoul government for “sitting idle and doing nothing to regulate the activities,” the lawmaker said the revision bill would give the government a legal ground for regulating such activities to help protect residents and improve inter-Korean ties. [Yonhap]
Now take a moment and read about one of the people the NPAD wants to censor. Read about his life’s history, as described by the European liberalism’s newspaper of record:
The food shortage hit my family in 1997. My mother, my wife, and my son died of hunger that winter. The boy was always frail, he died because he could not eat properly.
All my family had died apart from my eldest child. I decided to escape North Korea so that he could live.
I had always lived in obedience to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, but the death of my family changed that. Once I had dreamt of communism being achieved, listening to the lectures of the Kim family every day – but it was only a delusion.
Rebelling against the country would only lead to death. I decided to leave. [The Guardian]
The man fled to survive, but once outside North Korea, freedom of information showed him that it was also possible to live:
Despite the hardships, I tried to listen to South Korean broadcasts every night and sometimes people who had worked there would tell me stories. There was a programme called “To the People of the Workers’ Party” – the presenters were knowledgeable about the reality of North Korea. This is when I realised South Korea was not what I thought it would be. I decided to try to get there.
Today, he is one of the activists who sends leaflets into North Korea. Freedom of information transformed his life, and today, he wants to exercise his new right to speak freely, to give freedom of information to those he left behind. These are the rights — the universally guaranteed rights — that the NPAD wants to deny its fellow Koreans.
Can you imagine The Hankyoreh printing this story? Its editors wouldn’t tolerate it, and its readers would seethe at it.
I don’t think most people would call me a liberal, but I suppose it was around the time the angry left started to call itself “progressive” that I stopped using the word “liberal” pejoratively and attached a certain reverence to it. If liberalism still stands for things like tolerance and equality and nonviolence and free expression and free love, then Korea’s left does not deserve to be called liberal. Instead, it has degenerated to little more than authoritarianism in the service of totalitarianism.
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This post was edited after publication.
including benzene. If you wonder why people such as myself rail against slave labor and the lack of labor rights at Kaesong, this is why. A real independent union would have stood up for the workers and raised this issue long ago. I can’t say I have much confidence in the desire of either of the governments involved — much less the employers — to tell the truth about the exposure of help the victims; after all, that wouldn’t serve the financial or political interests. People go into North Korea full of promises to change its system. North Korea’s system always changes them instead.
The natural default candidate to advocate for these workers would be South Korean unions. Sadly, South Korea’s largest labor group behaves like Pyongyang’s wholly owned subsidiary.
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Update: More here, via AFP. And according to this article, Kaesong is suffering from deteriorating facilities, nervousness by potential investors, and (surprisingly) labor shortages. Why? Despite the high premiums the regime extracts from South Korean investors, the regime is increasingly renting out its workers to Chinese factories instead. According to the article, however, the regime can’t raise those premiums even more because Kaesong labor already costs more than it does in Southeast Asia. Interesting.
Admittedly, I don’t have high expectations of NPR, but I would expect that even they would at least mention the circumstances surrounding the summit that bought Kim Dae Jung his Nobel Peace Prize. Instead, NPR lets his grandiose claims go unchallenged:
“The Sunshine Policy has been and still is supported by the majority of South Koreans and the whole world,” Kim says, sitting in his living room. “It’s the reason I won the Nobel Peace Prize. People are telling President Lee Myung-bak to return to the Sunshine Policy, but it isn’t clear whether he will or not.” [NPR]
Since the point of the interview is to let DJ sell the plausibility of creating a kindler, gentler North Korea by paying extortion money — despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary — honest journalism would seem to demand raising the single most obvious question about DJ’s single most prominent claim of accomplishment.
Update: DJ calls President Lee a “dictator,” and Kim Young Sam calls DJ a “communist.” Both charges are baseless and needlessly inflammatory. President Lee has done some authoritarian things, to be sure, though the one that has the left up in arms is the firing of the managers of government-run media who broadcast the infamous “mad cow” reports that were inflammatory, false, and done with reckless disregard for the truth. Most on the left who were exploiting the effect of those reports hardly cared if they were false, or whether news media might possibly exist for a higher purpose than the dissemination of anti-American agitprop.
Quite rightly, Lee has been intolerant of the violent demonstrations that Roh not only allowed to run wild and subvert the democratic process, but fueled with government funding. The sum total of Lee’s departures from the principles of free expression, though deserving of more sincere condemnation than they’re received, still don’t add up to as much authoritarianism as Roh demonstrated against opposition media or North Korean defectors. So let’s call the Korean left’s hypocrisy about dictatorship for what it is.
Equally, I think Kim Dae Jung’s policies toward North Korea were disastrous for the people of both Koreas, but I doubt that Kim Young Sam, if pressed, could cite any evidence that DJ believes in placing the means of production under the control of a state managed by a vanguard elite and a Supreme Leader. Maybe DJ and Kim Young Sam are too partisan to see it, but rhetoric like this doesn’t protect democracy, it brings mobs of thugs into the streets to destroy it.
Update: I see Robert had pretty much the same reaction.
Maybe all that hand-wringing about a Lee Myung Bak dictatorship isn’t so exaggerated after all:
Oh Se-cheol, a professor emeritus of Yonsei University and prominent leftwing academic, was arrested on Tuesday on charges of breaching the National Security Law. Oh’s arrest is seen as a start of a government crackdown on leftwing organizations which grew and expanded their realm of activities under the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations.
Seoul Metropolitan Police said they received an arrest warrant and a search and seizure warrant for eight members of the Socialist Workers League of Korea, including Oh, and arrested seven of them on Tuesday. Police seized CDs, computers and diaries in their homes and offices. The SWLK was founded in February this year, and publicly proclaims its aim of building a revolutionary socialist labor party. It also aims for nationalization of business and financial groups and abolition of police and standing army. [Chosun Ilbo]
You’re shitting me. That’s it? The guy was arrested for attempting to build a political party? Wasn’t he at least a part of one of those North Korean spy cells, or some sort of violent fifth column agitator? Not exactly:
However, this does not mean the SWLK is pro-North Korea: on its homepage it calls the North “a hierarchical anti-worker society that is exploitative and repressive” and “a reactionary regime that must be overthrown by the workers.
The SWLK’s web site (google warns you that if you click, it will spam you) is full of stilted Marxist rhetoric; it might remind you of “Dennis,” the anarcho-syndicalist in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” It does advocate a “workers’ revolution” — whatever that means in practice — and sends greetings and “solidarity to fellow “revolutionary socialists [sic] militants” worldwide, but doesn’t directly advocate violence, not on its English language page anyway. On any given day, I can read things almost as dumb as this on the government-subsidized Hankyoreh. Will all purveyors of dumb ideas soon be dissidents, or just the ones who don’t have enough followers to start a significant backlash on the streets and press rooms?
Consistency matters. If you’re going to censor free speech, at least have the decency to give the people fair warning of the difference between what speech is legal and what speech isn’t. More to the point, why bother? The SWLK seems to be small and mostly harmless Marxist splinter sect. With the recent revelation that several powerful groups in South Korea were under direct North Korean influence, you have to wonder what Oh said that makes him a target. It sure as hell isn’t worse that what the leaders of South Korea’s largest labor organization, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions say, or what its thugs do on the streets (notwithstanding its receipt of government subsidies). It’s not more pernicious than what its subsidiary, the Korean Teachers’ and Educational Workers’ Union, is teaching the kiddies. It’s not more subversive than the Il Shim Hue spy ring — which was reported to have infiltrated government offices and had links to a Blue House advisor — before leftist former President Roh Moo Hyun suddenly fired the head of the National Intelligence Service and truncated its investigation. It’s not a greater threat to democracy than North Korea using the Democratic Labor Party as a puppet to manipulate elections. It’s not a greater threat to social order than this or this, or for that matter, than all those Chinese exchange students Lee decided not to prosecute.
Or perhaps the prosecution is using Oh as a test case. Yet going after what appears to be a fringe crank doesn’t exactly lend much credibility to what would follow.
Surely there’s much more to the story than this. What exactly makes this guy a threat to South Korea’s democracy or social order requiring the government to arrest him and prosecute him for the peaceful expression of his views? This is the sort of thing that really can and should backfire on Lee, absent some legitimate explanation of why this guy is dangerous. South Korea’s National Security Law ought to be about checking violence and preventing subversion by totalitarian powers, not suppressing unpopular or stupid ideas.
POSSIBLY RELATED IN SOME REMOTE WAY: I’ve occasionally wondered why a country so riven by ideology and region hasn’t had more sectarian strife. But now, Buddhists are accusing Lee of favoring fellow Christians:
Police estimated that 60,000 people, including 7,000 monks clad in gray Buddhist garb, gathered Wednesday in front of Seoul’s City Hall.
“Oppose religious discrimination,” the crowd chanted on the grassy plaza as they urged Lee to offer a public apology and fire the head of the national police agency for what they claim is religious discrimination.
They warned they would intensify their protests unless the government takes “sincere steps.” [IHT]
Gee. I wonder what ever gave them that idea? The term I’ve coined is “confucio-evangelical.” It’s things like this that cause me to wonder if Lee, having been set up for a comeback, is just determined to blow it. Still, in fairness, the things that have the monks pissed off seem more like examples of petty vendettas and heavy-handed police work than nascent theocracy.
Anyway, we can be thankful that no self-immolations were reported.
The Hanky has the vapors over President Lee’s plans to let the police use a bit more force against violent protestors. The plans include detailed rules on the use of force, and plans to arrest people who engage in violence and cross police lines. To this, the Hanky reacts with hyperbolic charges of a return to dictatorship:
President Lee seemed to have been encouraging the police when he said, “If foreign television programs show the nation’s unlawful, violent demonstrators wielding iron pipes, the value of the national brand will drop and the nation’s economic activities will also be affected. Lee also urged the police to make a new beginning by setting 2008 as the year to improve the culture of assemblies and demonstrations. After Lee’s Lunar New Year’s Day speech, in which he put special emphasis on the importance of law and order, the police formed a related task force in mid-January and since then have worked on making a manual whose contents include instructions for the arrest all demonstrators crossing police lines. [The Hankyoreh]
Why, it’s Kwangju all over again! (No, they really say this.) After all, if you can’t express yourself with a Molotov cocktail or an iron pipe, how can you express yourself?
I think we’ve seen enough of the effects of unilateral restraint to see how the left’s mob violence was becoming a threat to civil order, free speech, and peaceful discourse. And it’s not exclusively the left, either. Just look what a difference some discipline, training, and a few homemade flamethrowers can make:
Mostly, however, it’s the left — unions, students, and anti-American protestors — who methodically use violence to make their points and get their way. All too often, those mobs were under the sway of people who don’t favor a democratic system of government at all.
Societies must leave room for expression, but when violent expression is allowed, non-violent expression is quickly crowded out. The events in Tibet are an example of how the banning of peaceful expression fuels, and to a degree legitimizes, violence. But a society that allows peaceful expression and self-rule must also make the streets safe for it. That will require making Korean law and society less tolerant of violence.
BRING OUT YOUR NOT-QUITE-DEAD: “UN agency to conduct its first census since famine killed millions.” If things don’t quite add up, try looking here.
NOT LOOKING GOOD FOR KEVIN G. HALL: A reader e-mails a detailed article — co-written by Bradley K. Martin, no less –that drives a few 3-inch sheetrock screws into the coffin of Hall’s piece of work. If you’re not yet saying “enough already” to all of this, the updated post is here.
DAVID ALBRIGHT, CALL YOUR OFFICE: “N. Korea ‘Slowing Disablement of Nuclear Facilities.'” North Korea is in full stall mode, so the United States and China are sending more diplomats to cajole and supplicate in Pyongyang. The self-anointed Nostrafriggingdamus of Korea bloggers predicts no change in Kim Jong Il’s position, but offers none as to whether there will be a change in ours. What I did predict, and still expect, is that this crappy deal will become an issue in the election.
WHAT’S FOUR OR FIVE NUKES AMONG FRIENDS?
Larry A. Niksch, the Congressional Research Service specialist on North Korean nuclear development, said in an interview yesterday that other problems have arisen with the North Korean disclosure.
“The Bush administration had estimated the North Korean production of plutonium to be 50 kilograms,” Mr. Niksch said. “The North Koreans have disclosed 30 kilograms, which is at the lower end of the range” of what the U.S. thinks it might have produced.
“The gap is significant as it is four or five atomic bombs,” he said. [Washington Times]
They could be telling the gospel truth. And we’d still be idiots to believe a word of it.
NKHRA UPDATE: Twenty-three North Korean defectors will come to the United States from a refugee center in Thailand within the next two months or so. That’s twenty-three, on top of thirty-seven by the Hankyoreh’s figures, or about fifty according to other estimates I’ve heard.
DLP BREAKS FROM PYONGYANG: The power struggle between North Korean sympathizers and more democratically minded leftists continues within the Democratic
Peoples’ Republican Labor Party:
“We strongly protest at North Korean authorities for their attempt to destroy the party’s independence and self-reliance” in the so-called Ilsimhoe case. “We demand that North Korea immediately stop interfering with a progressive party of the South.” [Chosun Ilbo]
The party has expelled former Vice Secretary General Choi Ki-young and former Central Committee member Lee Jung-hoon, both of whom are now doing time for spying for North Korea. Recall that among the accusations against Il Shim Hue was a report that North Korea tried to use its DLP puppets to influence the Seoul mayoral election.
THOSE POOR PERSECUTED UNIONS. President-Elect Lee was about to meet with
Central Committee leadership of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, which may still receive government funding, until Lee’s people pointed out that the Chairman of the KCTU was the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant for an “illegal” rally last October. The government, commendably, turned down the KCTU’s offer for its Chairman to answer police questions at some location other than a police station. Here’s the KCTU’s response to that:
Lee Sok-haeng in a New Year’s press conference on Jan. 10 warned the KCTU will lead a general strike across all industries to cut off power and gas supply and halt the operation of railway and flight operations if the incoming government “continues to ignore and suppress labor. Lee Myung-bak has said he will deal with the KCTU in accordance with the law, even though the labor organization “has reorganized itself into a combat headquarters. [Chosun Ilbo]
I wish President Lee the best of luck. I don’t have to agree with leftish views to see how Korean politics and society could benefit from having a democratic left that isn’t beholden to genocidal fascism.
PRINCE CHARLES will skip the Olympics in Beijing.
BURMA HAS CHARGED ten dissidents in connection with last year’s failed uprising. The junta is unmoved by moral authority, and by now, it’s safe to say that moral authority has lost interest in Burma. What the Burmese people need isn’t more of the drum-circle good will that the “international community” loves to dollop out. What they need is guns.