Of the three most precious commodities in Korea – land, silence and trust – trust is the most difficult to obtain
Both South Korea and the PRC have experienced terrible tragedies in having a cruise ship, filled with passengers sink, resulting in the deaths of many. Though the accidents are very similar, the results are very different and telling but both share a common problem and that is the lack of trust.
When the Sewol sank, the public demanded answers. The relatives demanded accountability, which is still wanting. Memorials were erected, people paid their respects and mourned. Several safety inspectors, shipping company employees, Coast Guard officials were prosecuted. Out of 388 people directly and indirectly related to the accident 154 were arrested (cite).
Of the “Dongfangzhixing” or Eastern Star in the PRC, approximately 454 people were on board and unlike the Sewol, there is still no answer provided as to why the captain of this ship continued sailing when warned of the approaching storm that sank the ship or why sudden turns were executed before the ship sank.
The relatives of victims in both cases were concerned with the lack of accountability on the part of both governments. Korean parents of the Sewol victims became embroiled in attempts to use the accident as political fodder against the current government. Some parents ended up being detained by police at some point due to their participation in protests (cite). Likewise, in China, parents and families of victims were essentially treated as “troublemakers” and enemies of the state:
They (Party officials) tried to prevent us from going to the rescue site, and they wouldn’t even let us have a meeting of the victims’ families,” said a woman who lost her mother but asked not to be named for fear of inviting trouble from authorities.
“That’s why they sent so many officials — they were just there to watch us,” she said.
Questions immediately surfaced about why the captain of the vessel had not dropped anchor in the face of a violent storm and about whether a refitting of the ship to carry more passengers had undermined its stability, but those questions were swiftly suppressed — as instructions went out to local media to remove reporters from the scene and to strictly follow the party line. (cite)
Both cases saw concerns of the victim’s family with accountability and dis-trust with the government’s role in both tragedies. As time has progressed, both cases illustrate the inherent problems with corruption and its effect upon public safety. While the prosecution in South Korea actually arrested people for their roles in the Sewol affair, there has been a vacuum of information on the Chinese sinking and a lack of accountability:
. . . All the news we heard was about the glorious behavior of officials and soldiers who rescued people, . . . We heard so little about what actually happened that night and who should take responsibility.
Mourning the dead is one example of a marked difference between the two governments. Koreans widely mourned the deaths from the Sewol, with large memorials, however, in the PRC, the government effectively silenced any public mourning from the families with intimidation and threats.
Meanwhile, in South Korea, even the president’s role in the Sewol affair has taken a strange twist.
After much deliberation and obvious concern over the lack of impartial investigators over the sinking of the Sewol, the investigative committee under the National Assembly investigating the Sewol ferry disaster has decided to examine President Park’s role in the aftermath of the sinking, however, the ruling party seems to have a big problem with doing so, in fact,
Members of the committee nominated by the ruling Saenuri Party opposed the decision and wanted to exclude an investigation of President Park’s instructions that day. Four committee members nominated by the Saenuri Party threatened to quit if such an investigation proceeded.
Blue House spokesman Jeong Yeon-guk said the decision was an “unconstitutional idea” (!?). (cite)
This odd behaviour can explained better if we were to recall the tale of a certain Japanese reporter, who reported upon rumours that had appeared in Korean media about the whereabouts of the president during a mysterious seven-hour lapse. (cite)