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Author: thekorean (page 1 of 12)

Landmines in the Dream Making Zone

On August 4, two South Korean soldiers who were patrolling the DMZ lost their legs by landmines, which North Korea surreptitiously buried right near the gate through which the South Korean soldiers would enter the DMZ. This serious provocation by North Korea was reported immediately to the Blue House.

And how did President Park Geun-hye respond? The next day, she attended the ceremony celebrating the reconstruction of the railway that will potentially connect Seoul and Wonsan, where she proclaimed “DMZ will be transformed into a world-class space in which history, culture, life and peace co-exist, a Dream Making Zone.”

The Blue House didn’t get around to denouncing the attack until yesterday, a week after the two soldiers lost their limbs.

Under the two progressive presidents, South Korea won both of the naval engagements it fought against North Korea. Under the last two conservative presidents, North Korean torpedoes sank ROKS Cheonan, North Korean artillery shells killed civilians in Yeonpyeong-do, and now, North Korean mines terribly injured two soldiers–and the president spouted delusional garbage the day after.

Never let it be said that Korea’s conservatives are somehow better at national security. I never thought I would miss Lee Myung-bak, but at this point, I would gladly choose the competent president who does the opposite of what I want over the incompetent president who does nothing.


An Insult that was Criminal

Suwon District Court sentenced four months in prison to two “Ilbe” members who were convicted of criminal insult. The insult unfolded in this manner: one defendant, last named Kim, purchased the school uniform for Danwon High School–the high school whose entire second year class nearly wiped out in the Sewol tragedy–for the purpose of Internet trolling. Kim discussed with the other defendant, last named Cho, about the best way to troll, and Cho suggested Kim take a picture of himself wearing the uniform and holding up a stick of fish cake. The caption for the picture would read: “I made a new friend”–that is to say, the drowned Danwon student is now friends with fish. (The picture can be seen here.)

This is one of the instances in which Korea’s criminal law against insult worked exactly as it was supposed to work. While I am hardly a fan of the way in which Korean law regulates speech, I have always found there is a sound policy reason to keep criminal insult in the books:  to punish people like these two assholes, who travel such lengths to make light of a massive tragedy, solely for the purpose of the lulz. A civilized society requires that its members act with a minimum level of decency, and it makes sense to hold this line upon the pains of the law.

DP: NFP had Inter-Korea Summit transcript before the presidential election

We all know that the New Frontier Party brought up the Inter-Korea Summit issue, and what Roh Moo-hyun said about the Northern Limit Line, in order to distract from the fact that the National Intelligence Service was interfering in the presidential election and targeting the progressive politicians. Ironically, drawing attention to the transcript of the Inter-Korea Summit may have put the focus back to the cozy ties between the NIS and the NFP–as it appears likely that the NFP actually had the full transcript of the Summit long before the presidential election. (Remember, the transcript was a confidential diplomatic document that should not have been available until just a few days ago, when the head of the NIS de-classified it in his own discretion.)

The Democratic Party made two allegations to show that the NFP had the transcript before the presidential election. First, Assemblyman Park Beom-gye unveiled a recording of Gwon Yeong-se, ambassador to China at the time, speaking with his acquaintances in December 2012, previous to the presidential election. In the recording, Amb. Gwon said: “We have to talk about the NLL. You know, the transcript.  . . . Getting the material is not a problem, but it could backfire . . . because the source is either the Blue House or the NIS. Those are the places that can see the transcript, so we will unveil this if we win the election . . .”

Second, DP noted that during his own campaign, NFP Assemblyman Kim Mu-seong write a speech condemning Roh Moo-hyun for what Roh said to Kim Jong-il. Since the full transcript is now available, DP compared the transcript with Kim’s speech. As it turns out, Kim’s speech contained four lengthy quotes of Roh Moo-hyun that was verbatim identical to the transcript–which, again, was not supposed to be available outside of the NIS.

NFP claims that the recording of Amb. Gwon’s was illegally obtained. For the remarkable similarities between his speech and the confidential transcript, Kim Mu-seong simply said: “It happens.”

Meanwhile, the original NIS scandal looks worse and worse by day. The Supreme Prosecutor’s Office indicted the former head of NIS. In the indictment, the SPO alleges that NIS operated a team of agents to target progressives since 2009, which expanded to four divisions with 70 agents in February 2012. The SPO also indicted the head of the Seoul District Police Office for actively intervening to suppress the evidence of NIS’s interference with the presidential election and claiming before the election that there was no evidence of NIS intervention.

Guess who wrote this to Kim Il-sung?

“주석님께서는 광복 후 오늘날까지 40년에 걸쳐 조국과 민족의 통일을 위하여 모든 충정을 바쳐 이 땅의 평화 정착을 위해 애쓰신 데 대해, 이념과 체제를 떠나 한민족의 동지적 차원에서 경의를 표해 마지않는다.”

My translation: “As the chairman [Kim Il-sung] has endeavored with all your faithful effort to cultivate peace on this land for the sake of the unification of the fatherland and the people for over 40 years since the independence, I do not hesitate to express my respect as a comrade of the same people, setting aside ideologies and systems.”

Answer in 30 minutes, in the comment section.

Nice sign-off, boys

The NIS Spygate has sparked off a series of statements and resolutions from numerous colleges and civic organizations. To date, more than 20 colleges and organizations issued a statement. But the winner of the best sign-off goes to four students at Sogang University, who started their statement with this:

“The National Intelligence Service of the Republic of Korea, under the direction of then-Director Won Se-hoon, interfered with the 2012 presidential election by way of Internet communities.  . . .  NIS’s involvement in the presidential election is very shocking. But even more shocking is that, even as NIS’s interference with the presidential is getting uncovered, the civil society, the public opinion and we the college students are too quiet, with the cynicism that this is how politics are. The ideology and the system of democracy, which we learned through text in the classroom, are quietly disintegrating here and now. This means that, no matter what issue arises in our lives, the path of politically resolving such issues is closing.  . . .”

A solid statement, but the sign-off is the real winner:

“We inform you that we are not a member of any political organization that you may think of. Also, in order to extinguish any possible misunderstanding, the four of us declare:  FUCK YOU KIM JONG-UN. LONG LIVE LIBERAL DEMOCRACY.

It is a sad state of McCarthyism in Korea that this sign-off is necessary to criticize a serious threat to democracy. But hats off to the four Sogang students, who nicely demonstrated the absurdity of the situation.

The three way all-in with the Inter-Korean Summit transcript

Picture Korea’s current political situation with a poker game with three players: the New Frontier Party, the Democratic Party and the National Intelligence Service. In this game, the NFP holds an ace in the hole: the excerpts from the Inter-Korean Summit transcript, regarding Roh Moo-hyun’s remarks regarding the Northern Limit Line. It was an open secret in Korean political circles that this ace in the hole was one of the most cherished assets for the New Frontier Party. They were incendiary enough to reverse the tide on just about any topic. Best of all, NFP has an asymmetrical advantage on this issue. The NFP could continue illegally leaking snippets of the transcript that suggest Roh’s willingness to give up on the NLL, and the conservative base would be galvanized. The Democratic Party might fire back about the illegality of such leaks, but not even the progressive supporters can get all that excited about that. In the meantime, NFP can successfully distract Korean public from the issue that could potentially result in the demise of this administration:  that is, the conservative’s use of the nation’s spy agency to interfere with the presidential election and engage in a broad-based operation targeting progressive politicians.

So with this ace in the hole, NFP can bully and push around the DP with large bets whenever things do not go this way. Moon Jae-in recognized that this was a losing poker, and elected to go all-in. On Saturday, Moon called for the full transcript of the inter-Korean summit to be released, on the condition that the National Assembly hearing on Roh’s alleged intent to forfeit the NLL   happens at the same time as the hearing on NIS’s interference with politics. Essentially, Moon Jae-in and the Democratic Party are confident that the full record will extinguish the idea that Roh ever intended to give up the NLL, and re-focus the public’s attention back to the more current matter at hand — that is, the NIS’s involvement in the presidential election. With this precedent, the DP also has another bullet in the chamber for the future: when things go south politically, it can push to release diplomatic records of the NFP presidents. (For example, DP could just as easily push for the transcript between the 2002 meeting between Kim Jong-Il and Park Geun-hye.

But apparently, DP did not expect just how far the third player–the NIS–is willing to stake its own skin to help the NFP. Yesterday, the NIS moved all-in as well, by publicly releasing the excerpts that were shown to the NFP Assemblymen, almost certainly violating the Presidential Record Management Act in the process. Aside from the fact that it was illegal, NIS’s decision to release the excerpts greatly helps the NFP, because the NFP now has an escape hatch against the full disclosure to the public.

So what do the excerpts say? Essentially, Kim Jong-il proposed–and Roh agreed–that there should be a zone of peaceful cooperation over the area surrounding the NLL. Is that “giving up” the NLL? There may be disagreements over that. Meanwhile, the distraction continues–exactly in the way the NFP planned.

Park Geun-hye’s first 100 days

Park Geun-hye administration underwent its first 100 days. How did she fare compared to the previous presidents? Park’s approval rating was a solid 65%. Although lower than Kim Young-sam’s 82.4% and Kim Dae-jung’s 77.1%, Park’s numbers are better than Roh Moo-hyun (53.8%) and Lee Myeong-bak (17.2%!) in the same time period.

Park’s handling of the most recent North Korean row helped her numbers–74.6% said they either strongly agreed or agreed with the way Park’s administration handled the North Korean issue. It is interesting to see that, finally, there is a solid convergence within South Korea as to the proper way of dealing with North Korea.

Park’s appointments hurt her ratings. Considering the Yoon Chang-jung affair, this is hardly a surprise. More than 63% of those polled said Park’s appointees are not helping the administration. In addition, more than 60% of the polled said Park is doing a poor job in communication.

One more interesting bit: the elite officials in Park Geun-hye administration have a more diverse profile in terms of their college.  Lee Myeong-bak administration was derided for over-hiring the alumni of Korea University, which Lee attended. In Park administration, however, the number of Korea University graduates was halved among high-ranking officials. The overall proportion of the so-called SKY Universities (Seoul National, Korea, Yonsei) went from 64.7% to 50.2%, a positive development against the old boy’s club.

Disappointingly, women did not fare any better in the woman president’s administration. Only 2.3% of high-ranking officials (that is, five,) in the Park administration are women. This is essentially the same ratio as Park’s predecessors.

Wanted: Chun Doo-hwan’s money

In addition to being sentenced for life in prison for overthrowing the government, former president Chun Doo-hwan was also sentenced to cough up the bribes he collected during his rule. Chun famously claimed that his entire property amounted to KRW 290,000. Today, Chun still owes more than KRW 167 billion, approximately 75% of the original judgment. And the statute of limitation for enforcing that judgment will lapse in October of this year.

(Under Korean law, the statute of limitations for execution of judgment is three years. However, if more than KRW 1 million is collected in favor of the judgment, the statute of limitations is automatically extended by another three years.)

In a rare showing of bipartisanship, both the New Frontier Party and the Democratic Party are calling for fully enforcing the judgment against Chun Doo-hwan. The call is getting louder in response to the recent news that Chun Doo-hwan’s son, Chun Jae-guk, owned a shell company in the British Virgin Islands designed to avoid taxes. Chun Jae-guk, reportedly, holds at least KRW 60 billion in assets, although he never had a proper job in his life. The information from BVI could very well be the missing link between Chun Doo-hwan and Chun Jae-guk’s money, which would make Chun junior’s property subject to seizure as well.

Unsurprisingly, the Democratic Party is taking a more aggressive posture. Democratic Assembly member Yu Gi-hong proposed a legislation that would sentence hard labor to a public official who was convicted of a crime and does not fully satisfy the judgment. Another Democratic Assembly member Kim Dong-cheol proposed a legislation that requires the family of high officials to explain the source of their assets, and execute 80% of the assets for which the source is unaccounted for. Another legislation extends the statute of limitations from 3 years to 10 years.

New Frontier Party, in contrast, is more focused on the shell companies and tax evasion generally. NFP Assembly man Lee Jae-oh proposed a legislation that would repatriate all money taken outside of Korea for the purpose of tax evasion. NFP is also turning up the heat on Chun Doo-hwan, calling him to come forward and explain any connection with the shell company.

Ahn Cheol-su moves toward his own party

The 500 pound-gorilla of Korean politics–otherwise known as Ahn Cheol-su–is beginning to move in earnest to build his own political party. Last week, Ahn announced the founding of his own policy think tank, whose board will be headed by Korea University professor Choi Jang-jip. Among progressive academics, Professor Choi is the heaviest-hitting heavy hitter. Already, Professor Choi made waves by saying that, with Ahn, he hopes to build a progressive party with labor interest at the center. (For his part, while Ahn agreed that the labor interest will be represented, the party will not be labeled as “progressive.”)

Ahn’s recruitment of Choi is helpful in more ways than one. Choi is also a supporter of Sohn Hak-gyu, the minority faction within the Democratic Party. If and when Ahn does establish his own party, Choi is expected to play a vital role in luring a portion of the Democratic Party’s Assembly members, so that Ahn’s party will have an immediate voice in the legislature.

Ahn may not be the force that he was during the presidential election, but his political influence is far from diminished. According to a recent poll, 38.8% of the Democratic Party supporters and 7.5% of the New Frontier Party supporters said they would change their party affiliation if Ahn establishes a new party. (Overall, 22.9% of the total surveyed said they would change their party affiliation.)

Far-right wingers seek to deny the Gwangju legacy

Today is May 18, 33rd anniversary of the Gwangju Uprising–one of the most significant events of South Korea’s march to democracy. On May 18, 1980, the Chun Doo-hwan dictatorship mobilized paratroopers against the protesting citizens of Gwangju, and massacred hundreds of them. But Korean conservatives, many of whom trace their roots to Chun Doo-hwan and the fascist dictators before him, never quite warmed up to memorializing the Gwangju Uprising. Lee Myeong-bak, for example, never visited the annual Gwangju memorial during his presidency except in his first year as the president.

Since we now have the dictator’s daughter in the Blue House, the Gwangju denial has gone to a new low. It has been a persistent conspiracy theory in Korea’s far-right websites that Gwangju Uprising was actually the work of North Korean special forces who infiltrated the city. Channel A and TV Chosun, two cable TV stations owned by the two large conservative newspapers Dong-A Ilbo and Chosun Ilbo, just gave a new level of legitimacy to such claims by airing an interview with North Korean defectors, who claimed that North Korea indeed staged Gwangju Uprising.

How outrageous are these claims? It is so outrageous that Cho Gab-je, the arch-anticommunist who has not hesitated to label all progressives North Korean shills, wrote an article to tell fellow right-wingers not to buy this conspiracy theory.

South Korean officials abandoned the chance to pack up Gaeseong

Depends on how you feel about Gaeseong Industrial Complex, this is either trivial or monumental. Gaeseong Industrial Complex is currently sitting idle, with South Korean companies unable to retrieve the raw materials and finished goods on the other side of the Armistice Line. As it turns out, on the day when the last contingent of South Koreans (who were South Korean government officials who were overseeing the GIC) were leaving, North Korean officials told them that they would allow South Korean business owners to visit the Complex to pack up the raw materials and finished goods. North Korea would also allow the South Korean business owners to send personnel to perform minimal maintenance to the machinery. The South Korean officials simply said the offer was beyond their pay grade, and left the GIC.

This offer was not known until today, when North Korea broadcast this fact on their television news. South Korea’s Ministry of Unification confirmed that there was such an offer, and admitted that it did nothing. Ministry of Unification also said it did not transmit to North Korea the GIC business owners’ request to visit the Complex to retrieve the raw materials and finished goods.

If you think that GIC should have been closed, this is a non-event. But if you think that GIC should have been saved, this means that the Park Geun-hye administration essentially kicked away the last chance to save the GIC. Regardless of how one feels about the GIC, its closure is significant. If the GIC closure becomes permanent, North Korea-South Korea relationship essentially reverts back to the 1970s, during which there was no exchange or communication between the two Koreas.

NIS sought to curb Seoul’s mayor

In your non-Yoon Chang-joong politics news of the day, we have a delightful document from the National Intelligence Service, Korea’s spy agency, that discusses how to limit the effectiveness of Park Won-soon, the progressive mayor of Seoul.

The NIS’s internal report, dated November 24, 2011, is titled “Status of and Responses to Seoul Mayor’s Leftist Governance of the City.” The report opens with a statement of purpose:  “Since Seoul mayor Park Won-soon took office, he has been engaged in such leftist and self-righteous governance of the city such as expanding the tax-funded school lunches and significantly reducing the tuition of the City University. Through these measures, he is undermining political stability and providing a foundation for the opposition to expand its ranks. Therefore, a sophisticated method of control is absolutely necessary.”

Then the report discusses using the police, the prosecutor’s office, and civic organizations to undermine Park’s agenda as much as possible. It would have the national government drum up audit of Seoul’s use of its budget, and have the civic groups stage protests against the mayor.

So again, we have the nation’s spy agency devising plans to undermine the domestic politicians in the opposing party. On top of deploying its agent to troll the Internet before the presidential election. Nothing that comes out of NIS will surprise me any more.

Additional details on Yoon Chang-joong scandal emerge

Some new details about this scandal emerged, which subtly changed the complexion of this case.

First, the sexual assault was a bit more extensive than previously believed. Recall that previously, the story was: (1) Yoon grabbed the buttocks of the intern, then; (2) later, Yoon summoned the intern to the room, and answered the door naked. Now, according to multiple Blue House officials, Yoon was not simply in the room in his birthday suit, but was “pacing around.” And when the frightened intern was about to leave, Yoon demanded sex and grabbed her buttocks one more time.

This is a fairly significant change, because a sexual assault in an enclosed hotel room–as opposed to a bar from which one can leave at any time–can easily bump the charges against Yoon from misdemeanor to felony. If the D.C. prosecutors decide to indict Yoon as a felon, Yoon becomes a subject of extradition. Although Korea can always refuse to extradite its own citizen to U.S. on a discretionary basis (as can the U.S. to Korea,) it is pretty hard to imagine Korea actually exercising that veto.

Second, immediately after the intern left the hotel room, she went to her own hotel room, shared by an employee of Korea Culture DC, an auxiliary to Korean Embassy. Soon, the head of the KCDC visited their room, and spoke with the intern for about 10 minutes. At this interview, the intern told the KCDC official what happened–i.e. the harassment at the bar, assault at the hotel room, etc. After the discussion, the KCDC official reported the incident to the Blue House staff. Later, the KCDC official visited the the intern’s room again, this time with a “Blue House official.” At this point, the intern and the KCDC employee locked the door, refused to see them, and eventually called the police.

There is no further detail on what happened in the second visit that caused the intern to lock the door and call the police. A fair inference is that the KCDC and the Blue House officials attempted to cover up the incident, which enraged the intern. There is also suspicion that Yoon Chang-joong himself was at the intern’s door at the second visit, which would explain the reaction.

Third, it appears pretty clear that the Blue House staff spirited Yoon away, did not report to the president, and lied to the press initially. Initially, the Blue House staff claimed that Yoon ran away without telling them. That turned out to be false. Then the Blue House staff claimed that they gave Yoon a choice, and Yoon chose to return to Korea. That is also likely false. New report says that Lee Nam-ki, the chief of public relations, told Yoon to go to Lee’s hotel room as soon as Lee learned the incident. Further, it was the KCDC staff that reserved the flight ticket, and arranged the car for Yoon to head to the Dulles airport.

That the Blue House may have impeded an active investigation is not news. But the fact that this is their third version of the story does not help their credibility. This entire event could have been ushered into conclusion in three days. Instead, the Blue House is repeatedly shooting itself in the foot, turning this into an unmitigated disaster.

Park Geun-hye issues an apology for Yoon Chang-joong matter

It has come to this–the president herself issued an apology. In a televised ministerial meeting, President Park Geun-hye opened with a preliminary statement of apology, stating: “I sincerely apologize for the shock that the Korean American young woman and her parents must have felt, and the injury to the hearts of the overseas Koreans.  . . .  We will take all necessary measures on this issue, and will cooperate actively with the investigation in the U.S. Everyone involved must actively cooperate with the investigation without exception, and take deserving responsibility.”

So it is a positive that the president is taking this issue seriously. Now the question is, how wide will the fallout be? Although President Park referred to taking responsibility, she did not yet announce any specific personnel decision. It will be another few days before the dust settles.

Down goes Blue House PR Chief, more to come

I will say this again: I do admire Park Geun-hye administration’s decisiveness in handling a situation like this one. Heo Tae-yeol, the president’s Chief of Staff issued an additional apology, stating:

“We offer sincere apologies to the Korean people. We also offer sincere apologies to the victim herself, her family and relatives, as well as Koreans abroad. This incident is deeply embarrassing one that cannot be accepted under common sense, much less the law.  . . .  Although we immediately terminated the person involved, if there is any additional measures necessary, there will be no cover-up, no shielding and no delay. The chief of public relations has expressed his intention to resign on the day of his return, taking responsibility for the actions of his subordinate. On this issue, if anyone, including myself, needs to take responsibility, there will be no evasion.”

In addition to this round of apology, the Blue House itself–potentially the president herself–will issue another statement on Monday. Already, the Park Geun-hye administration has issued three public apologies in its short tenure, all of which were essentially related to appointment of personnel.

So the PR Chief Lee Nam-ki, who is suspected of pushing Yoon Chang-joong out of the door as the police was coming for Yoon, is likely gone. Even the president’s party, the New Frontier Party, is calling for Lee’s neck. Who’s next? The Democratic Party is calling for a wholesale resignation of all chiefs in the Blue House. Although that appears unlikely, there is a real possibility that a significant portion of the Blue House will be sacked.

Meanwhile, the Blue House’s credibility took some serious damage. Recall that during the presidential campaign, Park Geun-hye’s calling card was “the prepared woman president,” emphasizing her stable leadership. Welp, so much for that. You know things are bad when the hard-right Chosun Ilbo is blasting the Blue House’s ability of crisis management. As Chosun Ilbo pointed out, the major points of failure were: (1) no report to the president for more than 24 hours, although the Blue House staff initially claimed that the incident was reported immediately; (2) no involvement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, despite the clear possibility that this could be a diplomatic incident; (3) initial apology being merely four sentences, which contained an odd apology to the president but none to the woman herself. In addition, as Kyunghyang Shinmun pointed out, the Blue House staff initially lied about the reason that Yoon Chang-joong had to hurriedly return to Korea by fabricating the story about Yoon’s wife being gravely ill. (When asked why the Blue House staff lied, the chief of public relations Lee Nam-ki breezily replied: “At the time, we could not tell the truth.”)

Another interesting bit:  the Blue House interviewed Yoon Chang-joong as soon as he returned to Korea. According to the interview report that the Blue House created, Yoon admitted that he touched the intern’s behind, and later answered the door completely naked when the intern was summoned to his hotel room. Yoon apparently read and signed the report, stating that the report was true and correct. So there’s that.

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