The Marmot's Hole

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Category: South Korean Politics (page 1 of 46)

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.

The PM fiasco: it’d be funny if it weren’t so serious

Is there really anything anyone can say about this?

President Park Geun-hye on Thursday retained Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, a sign that underscores the difficulty in finding a qualified nominee for the country’s No. 2 job.

Chung offered to quit in April following a deadly ferry disaster, but Park turned down his resignation offer and asked him to keep his job, said Yoon Doo-hyun, the senior presidential press secretary.

Park took the step as she “could not leave the situation as it is” at a time when the country is divided over a series of issues exposed by the process leading to a parliamentary confirmation hearing, said Yoon.

Over 50 million people in a country that leans markedly center-right, and Park can’t find a half-way decent suit to fill the PM position?

And in case you’ve forgotten how we got to this point:

To help resolve the manpower problem, Park is bringing back a presidential secretary position in charge of personnel management; the position had been done away with by President Lee. There’s a lot of politicking and attempted blame-shifting going on, too, particularly by the right, which would like this to be about anything else BUT President Park’s questionable personnel choices.

Social media, meanwhile, is expressing its frustration with this fiasco. These tweets by Chin Jung-kwon sums up the “WTF” mood best:

Must be God’s will, I guess

Moon Chang-keuk is hanging them up after all:

South Korea’s prime minister nominee withdrew his name Tuesday amid mounting criticism of his alleged pro-Japanese views, in what is seen as a fresh blow to President Park Geun-hye’s efforts to contain the fallout from a deadly ferry sinking.
[...]
“I agree with President Park Geun-hye’s words that she would reform the root of this nation,” Moon said in a hurriedly called press conference held at a government building near the presidential office. “I also wanted to contribute with the little strength I have to (Park’s) words that she would lead the divided nation to unity and reconciliation.

“However, following my nomination as prime minister, this nation fell into greater confrontation and division. It worried me that this kind of situation would become a stumbling block to the president’s future running of state affairs.”

With Moon out of the way, I’d say attention is about to focus on Chung Sung-keun, President Park’s nominee for minister of culture, sports and tourism. Noted legal scholar and SNU professor Cho Guk is accusing the former TV news anchor and Arirang TV CEO of tweeting that Cho, Father Park Chang-shin of the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice, writer Gong Ji-yeong and Kim Yong-min should go and live in North Korea. A list of some of his better tweets can be found here.

Where does President Park find these people?

With the Ahn Dae-hee nomination not working out, President Park nominated former JoongAng Ilbo editor-in-chief Moon Chang-geuk for the prime minister’s spot.

I guess she’s a fan of the Yoon Chang-jung school of political inclusiveness. Now, to be fair, this is a guy who is unlikely to get busted in the states playing grab-ass with the staff, and he appears to have little in the way of personal wealth, which I suppose is a positive in this political climate. Here’s how Cheong Wa Dae describes him:

When announcing the nominations, Blue House spokesperson Min Kyung-wook called Moon “a committed and upright journalist who has brought objective criticism and rational alternatives to his efforts to set right the mistaken practices and longstanding vices of South Korean society.”

Now, this is how his own political friends describe him:

“He grew up in a Christian family in Pyongan Province [in today’s North Korea], so he’s staunchly conservative,” said a political veteran who is close to Moon. “His columns, and everything else he writes, are like ultra-right-wing cudgels.”

Another acquaintance from the ruling Saenuri Party (NFP) expressed confidence that Moon would work “with a sense of ethics and conviction,” but worried, “He may be too conservative to be the right person for bridging divisions and achieving unity.”

“He’s also not especially sociable, so there could end up being communication problems if he finds himself under attack from the opposition, such as during parliamentary questioning,” the acquaintance added.

So, basically he’s an old, right-wing Christian curmudgeon. Great.

Giving evidence to this is KBS, which showed video of a lecture Moon gave at a Church in Yongsan in 2011 in which he said Japanese colonialism was “God’s will,” suggesting that the Korean people needed a trial after idling away 500 years under the “Yi Dynasty” (and I’ll let your Korean friends explain to you the connotation of the term “Yi Dynasty,” or 이조).

He also said the division of Korea was God’s will, saying had God given Koreans full independence, the communists would have taken over the entire place. Oh, and that Koreans are lazy and lack self-reliance. Lots of fun stuff in that last link, BTW, if you read Korean. The Chosun Ilbo, quoting NoCut News, notes that he also told university students that Korea needn’t get an apology for the Comfort Women from Japan, and that Korea should no longer bring up the compensation issue.

He thinks President Park is God’s will, too:

However, the nominee changed his stance on Park after she was elected president in December 2012, calling her victory “God’s choice.”

“What if the election produced an opposite result? Her election is like a guardian angel showing up and saving the protagonist in danger,” he said in a Dec. 24, 2012 editorial.

On a positive note, I’ll grant that the guy has a set of brass balls. When Yonhap cornered him this morning to ask if planned to issue an apology, he responded by asking what he should apologize for. I also think the shinny dome is rather dashing.

Upping the Ante

The stakes at Geumsuwon, suspected hideout of Yoo Byoung-eun, grew significantly higher over the weekend, and the prosecutor’s office went all in.

senior prosecutor involved in the case told the JoongAng Ilbo that “We gave the Yoo family another chance because they have their rights as citizens. But we will have custody of him within this week no matter what.”

If the prosecutor’s office had hoped to buy the pot, members of the Evangelical Baptist Church called:  “ ‘Be prepared for bloodshed. Things cannot get worse. We will protect with our lives. In case of bloodshed, the prosecution will be responsible. If we lose the church, we lose everything,’ they shouted, punching the air with their fists.”

I would expect such words from the sect members.  The prosecutor’s office, however, should not engage in table talk.   Setting the stage for the final showdown later in the week, the prosecutor’s office is expected to ask for and obtain an arrest warrant for Yoo Tuesday.

Rather than noting the parallels to Waco, I hope the Korean authorities remain mindful of two key differences:  those holed up inside the compound do not have firearms and do not represent a threat to themselves or those outside the compound.

The Korean authorities seem to have misplayed their superior hand.  Doubling down on their mistakes, the Korean authorities frittered away their biggest chip, time.  By setting an end of week deadline, they bet all on this round, alerted and mobilized the sect’s members, and maybe even sent a cut and run signal to Yoo Byung-eun.

I’ve been to the sect’s Geumsuwon complex twice, today and Thursday last week.  Today, I observed many more people behind the compound’s main gate and blocking the main driveway.  I noticed a police presence of three squad cars, if the one squad car with two sleeping police officers (I took a photo) counts.  I witnessed increased traffic, which went unchecked by Korean authorities, in and out the main gate and several large trucks capable of carrying several days’ provisions for the several hundred visible behind the main gate.

I spoke to several sect members and one member in depth.  She emphasized the  environmentalism as one of the sect’s core beliefs.  “Hannah” self-identified the sect as “Christian fundamentalists” and believers in “the truth”.  She repeatedly talked about the corruption in the Korean government and judicial system, that Yoo Byoung-eun would not be treated fairly, and that the sect’s membership were protecting the land.  She motioned toward the long, uncut grass and specifically pointed out the tall-stalked dandelion heads that had turned to parachute balls, which means that they were ripe for children to pluck and scatter to the breeze to the chagrin of grandfathers everywhere.  Hannah never referred to “Mr. Yoo” as a minister or religious leader.  She said that the sect was without ministers and that all males, she specifically and without prompt excluded women, were welcome to speak before the congregation.

Since my visit last Thursday and keeping with their environmentalism, the sect provided a dual male/female portapotty for the convenience of the media.  I spoke to a reporter from Channel A who said that the sect had cared for the media members’ overnight comfort.  From the north perimeter, I could see at least three of the oft-mentioned subway cars behind the trees.  Both the north and south perimeters had more members watching from make-shift guard houses than had been visible on Thursday.  The north perimeter had razor wire, which if I judge by the weathering was not new and seemed to present more of their intentions to non-scheduled visitors than an effective deterrent to anyone who really wanted to enter the compound.

The sect members seemed to be of two simultaneously conflicting and irreconcilable minds:  one moment they spoke to me of the impending and perhaps concluding confrontation and the next they gave me organic candy and invited my family and me to the compound anytime.

I texted Hannah my email address and offered her the opportunity to publish an unedited message to the English speaking foreign community, and she texted back, “Follow ur heart :)

Retribution from on High – The President Will Disband the Coast Guard

The president has announced that she will disband the Coast Guard over their failure to carry out their mandate.

Reportedly, the current Coast Guard is shaped more for patrol duties with little experience in maritime emergencies (cite).

This will be replaced by a new organization that can better respond to disasters. I wonder who will be left with the task of hunting down the Chinese pirate fleet and if they will be sinking ships instead? (The pirate fleet photo set)

유병언, 유대균 of Sewol Ferry group, about to be made into “public enemy no.1″

The founder/owner of the Sewol ferry group, 유병언 and his eldest son, 유대균 as well as his close family members are wanted by the police and the prosecutors. These two are known to be hiding somewhere in Korea, and the police have placed a watch to prevent them from secretly leaving the country, and asked for 유병언 to present himself to the police by 16th (tomorrow) otherwise, be turned into the public enemy no.1. There is already a reward/promotion prospect for the police who can capture his son. One place either one of them could be hiding out is suspected to be 금수원 a kind of headquarter for these 구원파 (official name 기독교복음침례회) cult/religious sect.

There is currently a stand-off between these religious followers outside the 금수원 – they are decrying “religious persecution (!?!?)” and 유대균 has apparently told somebody “Our family has already an experience of a flat out *war*”, probably referring to an incident in 1987 where his father, as a member of a cult 오대양, was sent to jail after mass-suicides of the cult followers.

His other close relatives 김혜경 and 김필배 who used ESTA (electronic visa for visa waiver countries) to leave for the US on the 20th of last month, a few days after the Sewol ferry went down, might become classified as illegal stayers, as the Korean police wanting them can revoke their ESTA visa.

Finally, 유병언’s connection to high society and the powerful was highlighted in a recent JTBC news clip where he is acknowledging many important society people who came to his photo-book launch party. The guests he singles out include the US ambassador to S.Korea Sung Kim, and also the Israeli ambassador.

There is a saying in Korea 개독교 – a derogatory way of referring 기독교.

My grandfather was probably one of these people who referred to the Korean *evangelical Christianity* as 개독교.
I have little connection/experience to even begin to clearly distinguish what is a *cult* from a *branch of a Korean Evangelical church, but based on what I know, one of the biggest ills of the Korean society which has come to light in this disaster is the power and the community that belongs to these evangelical Christian bodies/sects, just another shell covering the typical Korean structural hierarchy. And I have definitely seen them thrive outside of Korea as well. I remember my mother once pointed out in awe/disgust that in the local Korean phone book she found there were more than 50 churches(or something like that) just starting with “Korean Washington..”

손석희’s interview with 정몽준 on JTBC

정몽준, Saenuri’s candidate for the position of Seoul City Mayor has been on the news after he was interviewed by 손석희 on JTBC.

He has been in the news following the Sewol disaster due to his son’s statement only a few days after the tragedy that “the President is having a hard time due to 미개한 국민성 (uncivilized/primitive national character of the people)”.
He has also been in the news due to his wife being charged for campaigning for himself (somebody in a current political position) a violation of election law according to the election committee.

Here he is being interviewed, and answering questions on this issue, as well as some other issues. 손석희 says he would not question him on his son’s statements, and 정몽준 says “well saying you won’t is the same as (being questioned)”

On the charge against his wife, he says that things are not so clear cut – the rules of election, and also says that the way the media is treating it, it’s as if “his wife has distributed money-filled envelopes”. He then goes on to add “she asked people to vote for “the candidate that would win” and did not specifically mention his name.”

He also calls 손석희 “우리 손사장님” in a sarcastic manner during the interview when he is in a pinch.

What comes across very strongly is his character as well as the level of intelligence during the interview.

Flavour of the Month – Something Soggy

Prime Minister Chung Hong-won has announced his decision to step down from his post, due to the poor government response to the Sewol Disaster.  

As noted in the JoongAng Ilbo, Saenuri Dang leadership has been quick to react to the PMs departure:

. . . The news came as no surprise to the ruling Saenuri Party, who said that the prime minister’s resignation had been expected.
“The prime minister’s resignation was an expected scenario,” a Saenuri Party lawmaker told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday. “Now the most important thing is wrapping up the accident and doing all we can in the matter.”

Which is meaningless, considering the source.

The real problem is the lack of credibility in the current government and level of institutional incompetence in place.  If there is going to be effective governance, it needs to be competent since the lives of many rest upon the decisions of the few.   It will take more than the political gesture of Chung Hong-won not being Prime Minister to make disasters like this one a thing of the past. It will also take political leadership that is needed to make for credible governance and the will to make change.  This government and others after will continue to shed ministers and toss prosecutors under buses for the sake of politics but a real change in political and social ethos is needed.  Personally, I think at least one of the JoongAng editors understands this too.

Changing a minister changes nothing.

Flavour of the Month – Wait, I’ve Tasted This One Before . . .

“Regrettably, wrong practices of the NIS and holes in its management system have been revealed (yet again). . . The NIS must make excruciating efforts to overhaul itself to make sure this kind of incident won’t repeat itself.”
<The prez> (cite)

Wait, the NIS is under the direct control of the president, so does that not mean that the president should be in charge of fixing their “wrong practices” and this on the heels of the NIS electioneering in the last presidential election and the subsequent attempt to “fix” the NIS!?

The difficulty of the birth of a new party – what Ahn is up to

I belong to the camp that tends to criticize President Park and I guess I am more left leaning than right in my political disposition due to various factors such as my background, age, socio-economic and education level. So far, the less she speaks the better it has been, and with respect to Japan, grudgingly I have to admit that Abe’s consequent actions have vindicated her somewhat.

In my opinion one of the fundamental problems with Korean politics is that there is simply little choice for people like me because there is no character or party ideal that can effectively represent the more moderate views. Due to the turbulent history of South Korea since its inception (or going back even further with regionalism – Cholla-do/Kyungsang-do divide goes way back into the times of the dynasty) the left has had to take a very revolutionary approach against the military dictatorship and is always addled with accusations of inciting, protesting, mass-demonstrating, colluding (with people up North).

Perhaps it is to depart from this extreme ways that we were backing Ahn Chulsu during the last pre-election. Since the last election, he has been quiet and trying to gather some people for the creation of a new party for what he calls “새정치 new politics”. This kind of reminds me of what Tony Blair tried to do with “New Labour”.

So far, the characters in Ahn’s camp: Song Hochang has caught my eye (I saw him on 김구라 Kim Kura’s semi-political entertainment show “적과의 동침” – despite the fact Song is meant to have jokingly denied being on “Ahn’s camp” saying he is 무소속 independent” on the same show. I have much hope for him so hopefully our commenter Salaryman will find some faults with him in no time.

More Recently, the inclusion of Yoon Yeohjoon, an old haraboji character who likes to flip political sides as much as a grandma flips kimchi-potato-pancakes, has made many people complain, but this may just be a necessary step by Ahn to actually garner some momentum within the political scene.

More importantly, Ahn got a lot of flack for going to pay his respects at Park Junghee’s grave for the New Year – a move seen by the Minju 골수 as some sort of “coming out with his true colours as actually a Saenuri in Saejungchi’s clothing”.
To me, this really highlights the complicated issues Korea has with its own history, especially when it is criticizing the neighbour for a similar sort of behaviour.

I think the crucial step for Ahn et al. now is to generate some strong momentum, and get more good people on board. Here’s to quietly hoping, again.

So, President Park had a press conference

President Park Geun-hye gave her year-end press conference yesterday.

In case you were wondering, yes, that’s the first press conference she’s held in her term. You can read the address (and the subsequent Q&A) in Korean here.

As for the address, I didn’t find it terribly exciting. The Q&A, on the other hand, turned up some interesting nuggets.

Since many readers are interested in foreign policy, I’ll start there. President Park said she was willing to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but she didn’t want to have “talks just for talks,” and stressed the need for environment in which talks can lead to tangible results. A lot of folk found her use of the term “jackpot” (daebak) to describe Korean reunification to be rather interesting linguistically:

“Due to prohibitively high costs, some seem to be satisfied with the status quo of separation. But reunification is a ‘jackpot’ for us as shown by the fact that famous investors vow to invest all of their wealth in Korea after reunification. Our economy will be able to rack up a quantum leap,” she said.

I hope she’s right, because the more I see of Kim Jong-un, the more I think reunification is coming sooner than later.

She also said she’d be willing to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but she also suggested work needed to be done before that happened. She also called on Prime Minister Abe to, well, stop being a dick:

“Since taking office, I have wished to improve the relationship between Korea and Japan. And to build mutual trust, I have stressed an appropriate historic view and a sincere attitude,” Park said.

“It is regrettable that the atmosphere has been broken repeatedly at this important time when cooperation between the two nations must be expanded.”

On the domestic front, President Park wants us to know she’s really not such a bad communicator after all. In fact, the problem is really that society apparently doesn’t know what true communication is:

“I think that we are required to understand what communication really means. It is not communication to have pointless meetings or compromise against the interests of the people,” Park said.

“Thus far, even illegal demands were accepted if they continued. It is not right to criticize me for not condoning convention. Genuine communication is possible when everybody abides by the law and the law is appropriately enforced.”

If society accepts irrational requests in the guise of communication, she said that it will end up harboring more distortions, which eventually cause more problems for the people.

I don’t think that’s going to have the intended calming effect. It goes without saying that the Hani wasn’t impressed, but heck, even the Chosun Ilbo’s editorial team wrote that if the government wants to be pursuasive, it needs to free itself of its own irregularities and chronic problems before lecturing the public. It also notes that almost nowhere in the OECD does it take the head of government a full 10 months before she gives her first press conference.

More on this later.

UPDATE: Government officials are bitching to the Dong-A Ilbo that Japanese correspondents were “rude” during the press conference. More specifically, they apparently approached President Park and asked why they hadn’t been allowed to ask any questions. One official asked whether Korean correspondents in Tokyo have ever gone up to PM Abe and asked why they weren’t allowed to ask any questions.

Well, if it makes the Japanese reporters feel any better, they weren’t the only ones not allowed to ask any questions. As TK points out, the Q&A was an entirely scripted affair. Representatives were selected according to media type—national news dailies, broadcast media, regional papers, foreign media, etc. The Dong-A- says that in the case of national dailies, a lucky draw was held (which the Dong-A and Segye Ilbo won). Foreign media are normally allotted two questioners—one from the Western press and one from Asia. This time it was Reuters and China’s CCTV. Questions were sent to Cheong Wa Dae ahead of time.

I should point out that Cheong Wa Dae’s relationship with the press—and some of the newer media in particular—is very much something to watch.

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