The Marmot's Hole

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Category: South Korean Politics (page 1 of 47)

So He *Did* Intervene in The Election

Get_smart

For those that remember the story of Won Sei-hoon, former director of the NIS, that carried out a Tweeter campaign to bolster Park Guen-hye’s presidential campaign, it may come as a suprise that  the previous district court ruling that determined there was not enough proof that he tried to intervene in the election, was thrown out.

Won, instead won a brand-new go-to-jail card for three years:

The Seoul High Court, on Monday, dismissed the lower court’s decision and said he had also violated election laws. “It is fair to say Won had the intention to intervene in the election,”
(Judge Kim Sang-hwan)

I guess no one asked if anyone instructed him to do this, though Won was quoted as saying he did what he did “for the safety of my country and its people”.  Likewise, one might also say that the Seoul High Court overthrew the previous ruling for the integrity of the country and its people.

Having the Intellegence to Know When to Slap the Right Hand

tricky handsThe Bible speaks of the “left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing” and when applicable to a government, this is usually bad news since it could imply a “deep government” that exerts undue control over a democratic process.

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina has announced plans to disband Argentina’s intelligence agency after the suicide (murder) of prosecutor Alberto Nisman – hours before he had been due to testify against senior government officials about the government cover-up of Iran’s role in a bombing that took place in 1994 (cite).

President Kirchner was quoted:

“I have prepared a bill to reform the intelligence service,” President Fernandez said, adding that she wanted the proposal to be discussed at an urgent session of Congress. “The plan is to dissolve the Intelligence Secretariat and create a Federal Intelligence Agency,” she said that a new leadership should be chosen by a president but would be subject to a Senate approval. (cite)
“Combating impunity has been a priority of my government,” she added. She further stated that the existing intellegence service “has not served the national interests”.

Considering the heavy-handed direct interference of the NIS (1, 2, 3)  and the CIA (torture instead of gathering actual information) in their respective governments, the undue political interference in the Prosecutor’s Office in Seoul, and the use of these intellegence services to further the political aims of a select group of politicians, it is past time to make a greater committment to our respective societies’s democracy and make these agencies anew.

Shhhhhhh . . .

gagConsidering the current concern with satire and free speech, Hyung-Jin Kim’s (AP) article on Shin Eun-mi, the Korean-American woman that has been accused of saying nice things about the DPRK, is a recent report concerning the National Security Act, free speech in South Korea and the politically inspired abuse of such in South Korea.

Shin Eun-mi is due to voluntarily leave today (?) after the Prosecutor’s Office issued a request to have her deported from South Korea today, due to her praise of the DPRK. The Prosecutor’s Office has also requested that she be barred from returning to South Korea for five years and that she be required to apply for a visa to return after that time, even though US citizens do not need a visa to visit South Korea (link). Shin Eun-mi’s “praise” has been construed as being a violation of the controversial National Security Act (an abbreviated translation of it is here). This has also not been the first time a foreign national has been expelled from South Korea for expressing pro-DPRK views – last year, a Chinese student was expelled for such for “suspicions of ‘aiding the enemy'”. (link) The National Security Act has long been a means by which critics of the ROK Government and DPRK supporters, both, have been prosecuted and imprisoned for up to seven years.

This issue illustrates the political intolerance that has characterized the current administration in squashing not only those that say good things about the DPRK but those that criticize the politicians in power and those that would expose the majority party’s incidences of violating the law though means of illegally manipulating government agencies, such as the NIS, or the use of media allies to help thwart investigation into their own violations of law.
Even the closest ally of South Korea thinks that the South Korean Government has gone too far in suppressing what most Americans would consider to be a freedom of speech issue:

. . . In a rare note of criticism of a key ally, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that despite South Korea’s generally strong record on human rights, the (South Korean) security law limits freedom of expression and restricts access to the Internet.

A fair description about the current state of South Korean politics and its effect upon free speech and political commentary, by Jamie Doucette and Se-Woong Koo, describes how the security act and government have grown bolder in using the issue of state security to supress those that would indulge their opinions:

. . . In this essay, we argue that this rhetorical shift has been accompanied by an expansion of what South Korean intellectuals term ‘politics by public security,’ a phrase used to describe the use of public security as a ground for stifling dissent and criticism. What is unique about the present moment is not simply the evocation of a threat to national security but the extent to which state agencies have been actively involved in this process, whether it be in the form of direct electoral interference, the leaking of confidential state documents, or the initiation of probes into prominent critics of the government from across the liberal-progressive opposition. In what follows, we examine the recent sequence of events from NIS electoral interference to the more recent move to disband the United Progressive Party in order to better understand distorting effects to Korean democracy brought about by this recent rhetorical shift and its intricate relation to ‘politics by public security.’

A link to this essay can be found here

Pardon moi? (redux)

Pardon me for resurrecting a prior post.

Voices for imprisoned conglomerate owners’ paroles and even pardons are gaining volume in Park Geun-hye’s ministries.  Floating pardons over a long yuletide weekend, the Blue House seems to be taking a page from the White House’s old play book.

On Christmas Eve, ruling Saenuri Party leader Kim Moo-sung argued for paroles and even special pardons for businessmen behind bars. “As the nation’s economy is struggling, those who need to work should work. Investment is impossible without the owner’s decision,” Kim said.

The day after Christmas, Floor Leader Lee Wan-koo banged the parole drum. “If the government requests discussions about conditional release of business people, we can consult with the main opposition party.”  Party spokesman Park Dae-chul gave an official statement:  “The role of entrepreneurs is important in order for Korea to revive the economy that remains in the doldrums. We urge the government to deeply agonize over the issue given the two criteria of economy and law.”

Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Min Kyung-wook told reporters that he did not know whether the president’s office was considering granting parole to businessmen, adding the Justice Ministry, not Cheong Wa Dae, is the authority on the matter: “Entrepreneurial parole is the justice minister’s own right.

The Joongang Ilbo added, “although the Blue House did not officially endorse granting parole for the convicted executives”, deference to the Justice Ministry could be “interpreted as its tacit recognition of the need to allow company heads more leniency in the legal system.”  In an opinion piece, the Joongang Ilbo went so far as to say “the minister’s comments could well translate into his de facto consent.”

Those eligible for parole include SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won and his younger brother Jae-won.  The older Chey has served 23 months of his four-year sentence for embezzling tens of billions of won of his company’s money.  LIG Group Chairman Koo Bong-sang is also eligible for parole, having served 26 months of his four-year sentence for defrauding 215 billion won ($198 million) from investors.

Serving less than one-third of their terms, other imprisoned chaebol leaders are ineligible for parole; a presidential pardon is their only opt out of prison. A rouges’ gallery sampling includes the following:

  • CJ Group Chairman Lee Jae-hyun –  Sentenced in September to a three-year prison term for embezzlement, breach of trust, and tax evasion totaling 165.7 billion won (US$159.5 million). Having served only four months, Lee has been granted temporary medical parole to remain in the hospital for treatment following a kidney transplant.
  • Taekwang Group Chairman Lee Ho-jin – Sentenced to 4 1/2 years for embezzlement and breach of trust.  Having served 63 days behind bars, Lee has been hospitalized for two years and waiting for a liver transplant.
  • Former STX Group Chairman Kang Duk-soo – Sentenced in October to six years for cooking the company’s books for 584.1 billion won ($556.2 million) and embezzlement (67.9 billion won).  To his credit, “the figures were much smaller than the charges raised by the prosecution, which had claimed Kang’s accounting fraud and embezzlement reached 2.3 trillion won and 340 billion won, respectively.”
  • Tongyang Group Chairman Hyun Jae-hyun -Sentenced in October to 12 years in prison for fraud.  Hyun ordered Tong Yang affiliates to issue 1.3 trillion won (US$1.2 billion) worth of virtually worthless corporate bonds and commercial paper. “The business tycoon systematically covered up the companies’ troubled finances by asking media to delete or tone down articles questioning their financial health,” the court added.

All news stories and opinion pieces seemed to omit that the heads of Korea’s ministries are appointed, not elected, and Korea’s is not a coalition government.  The Justice Minister, appointed by PGH, serves at the President’s pleasure and carries out the President’s policies.  If Chung Wa Dae were against granting paroles, all speculation would end with a simple no.

Complicating the Justice Ministry’s plans for paroles and pardons are candidate Park Geun-hye’s own words (“There will be no special pardons of tycoons“) and the recent nut-rage incident, which brought to the surface Koreans’ long suffering and ever broiling sense of Korean chaebols’ families’ perceived entitlement and privilege.

These handful of minority, though perhaps plurality, shareholders have successfully held their companies and other shareholders hostage and hoodwinked the Korean government and media into thinking that the whole of the Korean economy depends on their captaining of their companies …which they embezzled from and defrauded …which is the reason they are in prison.  The Joongang Ilbo opined against a “quid pro quo”, that “the government must not grant them parole in exchange for promises to increase investments. It should be a matter of principles, not a business transaction.”  Under what principle should an embezzler of nearly $200 million dollars be paroled from serving his four year sentence?

All this makes me wonder how Apple would fare if Steve Jobs were to die or what Microsoft would do if Bill Gates retired to pursue philanthropy.  Given Korea’s dependence on Samsung, the real elephant in the economy, what would happen if Lee Kun-hee suffered an incapacitating heart attack?

I handicap the paroles and perhaps some pardons happening between Korea’s New Years:  sometime after solar New Year, sometime before March 1, and with a probability density centered around Seollal.

Pardon my French, but ce qui la baise?

More on the dissolution of the UPP

Over at Korea Expose – which if you’re not reading, you really should be – Ben Jackson has posted a wonderful analysis of the reactions to the Constitutional Court’s dissolution of the United Progressive Party (UPP) and what it means for Korean democracy.

I agree with the bulk of what Ben has to say. Judging simply from what I’ve read, I think the Constitutional Court’s decision was a bad one – if you’re going to disband a political party, an act not completely unheard of even in mature democracies, you’ve got to do so based on a criteria much more severe than anything I’ve seen yet in regards to this case. And while I might sympathize – for reasons such as this – with those uncomfortable with letting possibly pro-North Korean lawmakers sit in the National Assembly where they could cause trouble, even the Israelis allow openly anti-Zionist Arab parties to sit in the Knesset, and frankly, as Ben pointed out, there are probably bigger threats to Korea’s democratic order than a tiny minority party that is held in contempt by large swaths of the Korean public, including not a few progressives. In addition, the international optics of the decision are not good, and Amnesty International is already expressing concern. Some view the decision to drag the party before the court as political retribution for UPP party chief Lee Jung-hee’s trashing of President Park Geun-hye during the 2012 presidential debates, although frankly, Lee’s rhetoric may have actually helped Park more than it hurt.

Having said that, it is remarkable that the court not only decided to disband the UPP, but it did so in a 8-to-1 decision. Centrist justice Kang Il-won and even progressively minded justice Lee Jung-mi voted in favor of dissolving the party, which makes you wonder what exactly they heard during proceedings that was so bad that they gave an entire party the political death sentence. Moreover, opinion polls (printed in conservative papers, granted) suggest over 60% of the public supports the court’s decision.

As I said in the comment section of Korea Expose, it’s impossible to talk about the court’s decision without talking about former UPP lawmaker Lee Seok-ki, who is currently doing a nine-year stint for incitement to rebel. What Lee did, and more to the point, how the UPP handled what Lee did, was almost comically bad, as I wrote back in 2013:

It seems everybody can agree that the UPP’s response to this crisis has been, in a word, abysmal. The Chosun, of course, notes that the UPP went from “there was no meeting” to “there was a meeting, but nothing about guns and blowing stuff up was said” to “there was a meeting and ‘guns’ and ‘blowing stuff up’ might have been mentioned, but the NIS is manufacturing the context” to “we were only joking.” You know you’ve truly screwed the pooch, however, when you’ve got UPP members going to the Hankyoreh to bitch about how the party leadership has thrown the party in crisis by a) refusing to apologize for Lee’s bizarre comments and behavior and b) lying to the public despite internal agreements to come clean right at the beginning.

Although justices Kang and Lee didn’t say anything in particular, the Segye Ilbo, citing lawyers and academics, suggests that the records from Lee’s investigation swayed the two into deciding with the majority. And indeed, the decision text mentions controversial comments made by Lee, including those regarding his refusal to sing the national anthem. (UPDATE: You can read the court’s decision in English here, and in Korean here).

The Chosun Ilbo sheds even more light on this. Although during proceedings, the UPP argued that you couldn’t connect the activities of some party members – i.e., Lee and comrades – to the party as a whole, the court decided that the decision by the party to defend Lee when the party was coming under fire for his actions meant Lee’s sins were the party’s sins. OK, I might not have gone in that direction, but the Chosun notes that there’s more, and it’s sort of ironic both for Lee and the party. During the criminal trial, Lee and his seven co-conspirators argued that the so-called Revolutionary Organization (RO) was not a secret organization, but rather a party event held to figure out a direction for the party’s anti-war activities. Suwon District Court, however, rejected this and judged the RO to be a secret organization that was plotting an insurrection. In the appeal, however, Seoul High Court found insufficient evidence that the RO existed and acquitted him plotting an insurrection (the court upheld the conviction for inciting rebellion, however). More to the point, the court accepted some of Lee’s arguments, namely, that his comments were made during a party meeting. So while the decision was good for Lee personally – he got three years shaved off his original 12-year sentence – it was bad for the party, which now looked like it was hosting events where people talked about blowing up vital infrastructure in the event of a North Korean invasion. Not pretty.

Moreover, the party and its predecessors have had serious internal issues in the past at least partly linked to its leadership’s attitudes toward North Korea (and its protection of members implicated in North Korea-related crimes), most notably in 2007 and 2012.

Still, while I’m much less despondent than co-blogger Anonymous_Joe or Ben, I do find myself agreeing with the lone dissenting voice on the court, who argued that it was wrong to punish the entire party for the actions of a few members and that Korea has laws – including the National Security Law – which could effectively remove seditious individuals from the policy making process. Moreover, if it’s potentially traitorous lawmakers you’re worried about, he argued, the National Assembly has its own measures to deal with them. Disbanding a party should be a last resort, and one ideally left to the voters at election time.

Sounds reasonable to me.

Anyway, a major theme in the conservative press is that Korea’s progressive movement needs to reinvent itself by cutting ties with pro-North Korean types – see today’s editorials in the Dong-A Ilbo and JoongAng Ilbo (the Chosun Ilbo, on the other hand, is still having too much fun beating up on the UPP). And sure enough, you can find progressive figures saying just that. Still, if the conservative press’s lectures come off nearly as annoying to progressives as progressive commentators’ lectures to conservatives sound every time we get spanked at the polls, I imagine the advice will fall on deaf ears. Instead, progressives are still wondering how the hell the Constitutional Court made its decision, and if today’s Hankyoreh editorial is anything to go by, what you’re going to hear are louder calls for reforming the Constitutional Court, where seven out of nine of the justices are selected by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the ruling party and all are former high-ranking court officers or prosecutors, both of which are viewed as bastions of conservatism. The Hani suggests adopting the practice of the German constitutional court, the model for Korea’s (not extending to the architecture, sadly), where justices need to be approved by a parliamentary two-thirds vote.

The Letter “D” as in . . .

Defamation is a problem for many in Korea, whose enforcement (or lack of enforcement) quite often infringes upon free speech, if not democracy itself.  The Wall Street Journal has a good, short piece on this issue here.

Have You Seen This Man?

CYH

Apparently, he was reported to be in the vicinity of the Blue House but there is some disagreement with this sighting and there are concerns that more than this man may be missing.  If you spot him, please call the Segye Ilbo, since they have invested some effort in locating this fellow.

Leaky Cheong Wa Dae

Cheong Wa Dae really, really doesn’t like leaks:

The prosecution on Thursday questioned police Superintendent Park Gwan-cheon and conducted raids in the expanding investigation surrounding former presidential aide Chung Yoon-hoi.

Park, who served on Cheong Wa Dae’s team dealing with discipline within the civil service until February, is accused of having leaked reports regarding Chung to the media.

The memo at the center of “Memogate,” if true, confirms suspicion that a small cabol of advisors—and in the case of Chung, a guy without even an official position—are calling the shots at Cheong Wa Dae:

Disclosures by Jo and Chung offer a glimpse into the political intrigue allegedly going on inside the Blue House. Jo’s allegation that Park’s three closest secretaries were involved in government personnel appointments has brought to the fore what has long been suspected ― that the three wield great power and influence in the Blue House. Chung’s shifting comments on whether he was in contact with the presidential secretaries cast doubt on his claim that the leaked document is false. The Segye Ilbo, citing the leaked document, reported that Chung met with presidential secretaries to plot an ouster of Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon and that the group met regularly to discuss state and Blue House affairs.

The aspect of this mess I find most interesting is how Cheong Wa Dae is—well, to be perfectly accurate, eight Cheong Wa Dae officials are—going after the Segye Ilbo, which quoted the leaked report, for libel. This, naturally enough, has the press worried, with the Hankyoreh condemning the move in rather strident language:

Park’s views on the media are positively dangerous. At the meeting on Dec. 1, she railed at the Segye Ilbo newspaper for “reporting things that they could have confirmed or denied with the least effort without even contacting the people involved.” But the problem is that this isn’t a case where the “least effort” could clear things up. The prosecutors may take these people at their word when they say “not me,” but the media won’t. What’s “abnormal” is a country whose presidential office dismisses a document that it produced itself as a “tabloid sheet.” Reporting on a Blue House report is a perfectly natural part of fulfilling the mission of the media. What kind of shameless president gets angry at the newspapers instead of blaming herself for leaving her country in this abnormal state?

Mind you, it’s not just the lefties at the Hankyoreh who are concerned. In an editorial, the Chosun Ilbo also asked why a newspaper company should be charged with libel and condemned by the president for quoting a document—a document registered as a public record, mind you—written by somebody at Cheong Wa Dae and leaked by somebody at Cheong Wa Dae.

With the prosecutors now looking into the report, we should get an idea of just how much of it is true. And to be fair to Cheong Wa Dae, this isn’t the first time shadowy individuals have been suspected of having undue influence over a Korean administration, nor is Park the only elected leader in the Free World being accused of overzealously reacting to leaks.

Anyway, I can understand going after the leaker in the name of maintaining official discipline, even if Park might be accused of some hypocrisy in this regard, but unless the prosecutors turn up something we don’t know about yet, I can’t see how going after the press is going to help her administration in the long run.

Fabrication of Evidence – the NIS Saga Continues

A court has convicted two NIS (National Intelligence Service) counterintelligence officials of fabricating Chinese government documents to build a spy case against a refugee from North Korea.  An excellent article by Choe Sang-hun is to be found here.  The judge, Kim Woo-soo said:

(the agents) seriously obstructed the function of the criminal justice of the country, . . . they betrayed the trust the people placed in the National Intelligence Service when it gave it both power and responsibility.

This decision comes after so many mistakes from this agency and an administration that is not intent upon fixing them, though there is much said about such.

Seoul’s Mayor Comes Out In Favor of Legalizing Same Sex Marriage

Seoul’s mayor and popular pick among pundits for presidential candidate in 2017 Park Won-soon came out in support of legalizing gay marriage.  In an interview with the San Francisco Examiner published last Sunday, Park voiced his personal support for gay rights and hopes that Korea would become the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage.

“I personally agree with the rights of homosexuals,” Park said. “But the Protestant churches are very powerful in Korea. It isn’t easy for politicians. It’s in the hands of activists to expand the universal concept of human rights to include homosexuals. Once they persuade the people, the politicians will follow. It’s in process now.”

When asked whether Taiwan would be the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage since Taiwanese legislature currently has a bill under consideration, Park answered, “I hope Korea will be the first. Many homosexual couples in Korea are already together. They are not legally accepted yet, but I believe the Korean Constitution allows it. We are guaranteed the right to the pursuit of happiness. Of course, there may be different interpretations to what that pursuit means.”

If Park is indeed considering a run for the presidency, his support for same-sex marriage could prove politically risky.  According to the Wall Street Journal, “the vast majority of South Koreans have negative attitudes against gay people, let alone same-sex marriage….”   A poll conducted last year by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies showed that 21.5% of the 1,500 adults surveyed said “they had little or no objections to homosexuality, while only a quarter said they supported gay marriage.”  The results were polarized by age:  a majority of those over 50 said they had “negative views towards homosexuality”, a majority of those under 40 were supportive of gay rights, and respondents in their 40s were almost evenly split in their views of homosexuality.

Park Won-soon,  58, was expelled as a freshman from SNU for his participation in a pro-democracy demonstration and made his bones as a civil rights attorney.  When the subject of South Korea’s prosecution and jailing of Jehovah’s Witnesses who refuse to perform compulsory military service came up, Park said “alternative civilian service for Jehovah’s Witnesses would be acceptable.”

According to an official at the mayor’s office, the interview took place during the mayor’s trip to California last month.

Postlude – A Debt Is Paid – in 100won Coins

After  the electioneering done under the auspices of Won Sei-hoon (former head of the National Intelligence Service), where millions of tweets flooded twitter-space in a deliberate attempt to influence the presidential election in South Korea, Won has received a two and a half sentence – suspended.

According to a report by Yonhap News, “While the Seoul District Court decided he had ordered agents to post politically sensitive comments, it ruled there was not enough evidence to prove he directly sought to influence the outcome of the presidential ballot” – believe it or not. (cite)

According to the JoongAng:

The court, however, rejected the prosecution’s argument that Won violated the election law by ordering a systematic operation to influence domestic politics.
“No evidence was presented that Won made a direct order to the National Intelligence Service agents to influence the presidential election,” the court said. It also said the team’s operation was part of the agency’s routine activities.

The court said Won had a heavy responsibility as head of the NIS to protect the agency’s political neutrality and prevent its agents from meddling in politics. He, therefore, deserves severe criticism for promoting government policies while trying to smear opposition political parties, the court said. . . the court wrote “Won did not plan the operation with a purpose and he merely followed past practices.” (cite)

The court’s “get-out-of-jail-free” card was given to Won after he left prison for serving 14 months of a two year sentence for graft.

Two other former senior officials of the spy agency who had been indicted on similar charges were each sentenced to a year in prison on Thursday, but their sentences were also suspended. Both the prosecutors and the defendants have a week to appeal the verdicts. (cite)

So who is responsible for running a subversive campaign against the Republic of Korea, if it wasn’t the DPRK and it was not Won’s boss (the president)?

Hot or Cold – The False Dilemma of Korean Politics

Kim Young-Oh is hungry but more sad than hungry.

Mr. Kim lost his 16-year-old daughter to the Sewol Ferry disaster and he collapsed from his hunger protest last Friday and has been hospitalized.

Mr. Kim was demanding that a fully independent investigator be assigned to the Sewol case instead of a government-connected prosecutor.  A bill has been proposed but rejected because a government-connected prosecutor is a problem for many because there has been a profound and long-held distrust of the government under the majority Saenuri Party, which has had a troubled history of manipulating events at the expense of the public’s trust.  Because of the reluctance of the ruling party to give such powers over to a non-aligned prosecutor, – citing constitutional problems as being the reason – Mr. Kim decided to fast.

Along with Mr. Kim’s fast, an all too common problem has been demonstrated, once again and that is a major problem of not just Korean politics but of most two-party political systems.

The real problem is a political system that is so degraded that it is suffering under a “false dilemma” – also known as “black-and-white thinking”.  Such an inflexible mindset is best exemplified in a two-party political system, which produces a either-or way of voting.  Due to the bi-polar (black or white) mentality of the political system in South Korea, many Koreans have assumed that:

Mr. Kim is a likely a bad man, that wants money, that failed to be a good parent and is probably a Communist and wants to wrench control of the country from the ruling party

OR . . .

Mr. Kim is a victim of the corruption of the ruling party that controls the government (at this moment) and is a hero that can help end the unjust rule of corrupt conservative politicians.

Actually, Mr. Kim is neither A or B.

There are several aspects to this situation.

Since the Sewol disaster, the NPAD faction and other supposed civic groups have offered their assistance to the parents of the kids that perished from the disaster, using it partly for their political agenda.  According to one parent, many did not want such help from the start:

Another father of a victim said some family members did not want left-wing activists helping them, as it compromised their political neutrality. “Some of us didn’t want to mingle with them, but at that time we were office workers who didn’t know how to speak up for ourselves,” he said. “So I thought we needed their support.” (cite)

The NPAD has also begun a boycott of government, bringing most legislative activity to a halt since this seems to be one of their areas of expertise.

Then there is that HUMONGOUS problem of credibility (sabotaging a prosecutor general, NIS-generated electioneering, etc.) , which the Saenuri-Hanara Dang/Administration has lacked, except in parts of the country where they enjoy an older constituency that vote out of that false dilemma thinking called regionalism.  I had a conversation with a fellow (over 50) in Daegu recently where he said he believed that Mr. Kim was a contemptible fellow, who was holding out for more money. To this self-described Saenuri supporter, it was all about money since there could not possibly be any other reason for Mr. Kim’s fast.

Very black-and-white in Daegu.

Meanwhile, many Koreans, that are against the Saenuri Dang feel that the ruling party does not want a truely independant investigation because of so much corruption tied to the ferry owner and people higher up in the ruling party. The government’s citing constitutional problems as being the reason why independant investigators can not be allowed is seen by many as being a “false choice” or “a deliberate attempt to eliminate several options that may occupy the middle ground on an issue”.

As for Mr. Kim? – he has said that “I have a headache. I have a headache because of politicians in South Korea, . . . We want to find why more than 300 people died unfairly. We want to clarify this and hold a person in charge accountable”.  He does not want money – he wants accountability so that his daughter’s short life and death will not have been in vain.

When there is such a firmly encamped case of the false dilemma, there can be parity only after much struggle since this way of thinking quickly becomes a device of the few that manipulate the many for gain, for example, currently there is an “ice-bucket challenge” that has become a popular way to raise the awareness of Lou Gehrig’s disease – a disease that can strike anyone no matter which political party they belong to.  The challenge is “to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to research” . . .
However . . .
Both Rep. Park Jie-won of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) and Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung have both taken the challenge not so much to donate money to fighting ALS but as a tool for political means, as per Kim Moo-sung’s statement “Please persuade hawkish lawmakers [within the NPAD] after sorting out your thoughts with some cold water” followed by Park Jie-won’s comment “Though I participated [in the charity event] there are still people gravely concerned over the passage of the Sewol law and who are still waiting for the return of their loved ones. I hope that ice bucket challenge and the Sewol bucket challenge will go together”. 

ice-bucket

Photo courtesy of NEWSIS.

I give you a visual example of the false dilemma on ice.

Yoon Yeo-joon also sees all of this as well but, like him, we are left without a ready solution.  IMHO, the change will have to come from the people – without the aid of any current party and in a manner that can not be co-opted.  That will take time and probably something unforeseen.

What Goes Around, Comes Around

The Park administration is angry at a Japanese newspaper and is threatening them with prosecution under the dreaded Korean defamation law.

The Japanese newspaper, Sankei Shimbun, posted an article “President Park Geun-hye, missing on the day of the ferry’s sinking … With whom did she meet at the time?” whose sources mention a Chosun Ilbo column that put forward the notion that the president was having a meeting, of a personal nature, with a Saenuri Dang member, who was also married (cite).

Mind you, I have no interest in anyone’s personal affairs, especially since it has no bearing upon any important issues, however, I do note one thing – isn’t it more than a little rich that one of the sources, mentioned by the Japanese newspaper, was the Chosun Ilbo, the same newspaper that interfered in the political process here, accusing (defaming) then Prosecutor General Chae Dong-Wook with marital infidelity?. . . and the news leak to the Chosun Ilbo about General Prosecutor Chae was a Blue House aide.

Naturally, the local editor of the Japanese newspaper is to blame for repeating this defamation.

Korean by-election results, a.k.a. Holy f*ck, Saenuri won in Honam

Despite public anger at the government’s handling of the Sewol disaster and President Park’s approval ratings faltering, the ruling party won—and won big—in yesterday’s by-election, winning in 11 of 15 races, including all but one seat in the greater Seoul area.

This gives the Saenuri Party an absolute majority in the 300-seat National Assembly and leaves a lot of observers—me included—scratching their heads.

The biggest surprise of the day happened in Suncheon/Gokseong, where the Saenuri Party’s Lee Jung-hyun became the first conservative in over two decades to win in Gwangju/Jeollanam-do:

The most unexpected outcome came from a race in Suncheon and Gokseong in South Jeolla, where former senior presidential secretary Lee Jung-hyun of the Saenuri defeated NPAD candidate Suh Gab-won, a loyalist to former President Roh Moo-hyun. Lee’s victory marked the first time for 26 years that a conservative party candidate was elected in South Jeolla, a traditional opposition stronghold, and is seen as a meaningful step in breaking the thick layer of regionalism in Korean politics.

For Lee, three times are a charm:

His victory came after two previous failed attempts in the province. In the 2004 general election, he received a miniscule 1.03% of the vote but surprised political observers in 2012 by garnering 39.7%.

For those keeping score at home, it’s only been 18 years since a conservative won in Jeollabuk-do—Kang Hyun-wook won in one of Gunsan’s electoral districts in 1996.

The National Assembly also welcomes back Na Kyung-won, whose fortunes look better than they did when she lost to Park Won-soon in the Seoul’s mayor race in 2011, and a damn sight better than when she dropped out of the 2012 general election after it turned out her husband—a judge—had asked another judge to indict a netizen on charges of defaming his wife (to be fair to Na, she was the victim of some pretty bad defaming in the Seoul race, albeit at the hands of folk not related to this case).

Yonhap basically says this was an election the Saenuri couldn’t win and the NPAD couldn’t lose… and yet they did. The news agency blames the opposition for opting to run on the Sewol tragedy rather than, say, present any meaningful policy alternatives. If you read Korean, the Chosun Ilbo’s editorial lists pretty much everything the opposition did wrong. It’s not pretty—my personal favorite is the opposition playing up conspiracy theories regarding the corpse of Yoo Byung-eun.

Anyway, the NPAD’s two co-heads, Ahn Cheol-soo and Kim Han-gil, are resigning, as is the party’s entire supreme council.

A New Era in Korea – Minus the American Influence

President Xi of the People’s Republic of China, and a large entourage of Chinese businessmen (Alibaba, Baidu), are currently visiting South Korea. The PRC is hoping for improved business ties but this time, there is, IMHO, the possibility of a sea change on the Korean peninsula.

Why and how?

China wants to change that status quo – they want to do so through money and through a redefinition of regional security – without American influence.

First, in business, China is proposing the foundation of a $50 billion “Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank”, first proposed by President Xi in October 2013, during a tour of Southeast Asia. This bank would have the PRC holding a fifty-percent stake in this bank and has hinted at benefits to those nations that participate and Xi’s visit to Seoul, currently under way is very much about the benefits to South Korea. (we will get to what South Korea might actually want from joining this venture shortly). South Korea has expressed an intent to become an offshore trading centre in Chinese currency (renminbi) and this current meeting is expected to address this as well.
For South Korea, this is useful and important since South Korea’s two-way trade with China was $229 billion last year, exceeding the combined value of South Korea’s trade with the U.S. and Japan. Xi told reporters after the 2013 summit that the two countries will strive to boost their trade to top $300 billion (cite). This trade has been hampered by the fact that both countries transactions have been based in US Dollars (because the Yuan and Won are not directly traded) which costs more and reflects the indirect influence of things American in Asia. A statement from South Korea’s finance ministry and central bank said the South Korean won will become directly exchangeable with the yuan, joining major currencies such as the U.S. dollar, Japanese yen and euro that are convertible with the Chinese currency. The decision also makes the yuan only the second currency after the U.S. dollar that is directly convertible with the won. (cite)
China has also given consent to South Korea’s investment of tens of billions of yuan (billions of USD) in Chinese bonds and stocks. The PRC Government is encouraging businesses to invest in Korea as well. Chinese investors are highly interested in cultural content, software and real estate development, thus would explain the drive by the Korean side to have Chinese investment in the so far failed Saemangeum Project (cite) or the attempt at luring Chinese investment in the Yeosu – Dadohae Haesang National Park area, as well as some yet to be announced projects.

There is also the issue of the recent Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and the PRCs desire to exclude powers – such as the U.S. – from regional security, suggesting an arrangement, guided by the PRC that is more than a little reminiscent of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere plan of Showa Japanese origin. As reported in The Diplomat:

Xi called for the creation of a “new regional security cooperation architecture.” He proposed that CICA become “a security dialogue and cooperation platform” for all of Asia, from which countries can explore the possibility of creating a regional security framework. He further indicated that China would take a leading role in exploring the creation of a “code of conduct for regional security and [an] Asian security partnership program.”
In promoting China’s vision for a new regional security framework, Xi took specific aim at the basis for the current status quo: military alliances. Xi tied such alliances to “the outdated thinking of [the] Cold War.” “We cannot just have security for one or a few countries while leaving the rest insecure,” Xi said. “A military alliance which is targeted at a third party is not conducive to common regional security.” Xi in turn offered an alternative vision for Asia, one based on an all-inclusive regional security framework rather than individual alliances with external actors like the United States.” (cite )

The real horse dealing that is not hinted at in the Korean press (which has been very quiet yet unmistakably pro-Chinese) is how will the PRC, under Xi, will resolve the issue of reunification between the two Koreas. The South Korean Government reportedly wants substantial help from Xi for making reunification a reality – in both financial aid and in the momentum that can only come from the DPRK’s only substantial supporter. Though many believe that the PRC will likely not destabilize the DPRK, if the ROK buys into the Chinese sphere of financial and political influence, rejects the American presence in the region and further guarantees their responsibility in dealing with the potential North Korean refugee problem, I honestly don’t see how a belligerent DPRK could possibly avoid change and reunification with the southern half since it would be a matter of survival to do so.

I suppose this is logical; solving Korea’s problem long-standing problem with the north and the cost of unification, while resulting in the exit of America’s influence in Korea and pushing the US further out of the region and likely gaining more support for the egregious regional claims made by the PRC. There is little America can do about this too, since the Chinese have the means to deliver the reality of unification to South Korea and whereas the U.S. can not.

Looking into a Sino-Korean future; also worrisome is the shortage of personnel to staff the larger Korean projects and the increased likelihood that more Chinese will see living and working in Korea as business ties and opportunities grow in the future. What impact this will have on Korean society remains to be seen and considering the tremendous potential influx of money into Korea, the Korea of fifty years from now will likely be a very different one from what we observe today in terms of world view and its relationship with Europe and the US.  Some may even talk about Korea as being a Chinese colony, wistfully remembering the days when their elders talked about how Korea was really an American colony.

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