Category: Korean Politics

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15 candidates, Trump posters, and a conservative divide in Korea

South Korea’s presidential election is coming up on May 9, and some supporters of break-away conservative candidates are using Donald Trump to make campaign appeals. Like most events that feature Donald Trump, it is chaotic.

Former president Park Geun-hye, who was the leader of the conservative Saenuri Party, was impeached in December, removed from office on March 10, and arrested March 31.

Her party quickly rebranded itself as the Korean Liberty Party, and Hong Jun-pyo, governor of South Gyeongsang Province, which borders Busan, was nominated as the KLP’s candidate for president in a primary that featured a paucity of strong conservative candidates. Former UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon briefly flirted with the idea of running for president as the conservative standard bearer, but apparently 2017, the year when the party is emerging disgraced from a major corruption scandal, just didn’t attract many takers. Hong is polling between 7-13 percent in recent polls.

Already Korean conservatives were divided by disaffection with Park. Even before the scandal was uncovered, the Baerun Party emerged as a group of conservatives in the National Assembly who didn’t strongly support Park. Now it includes 33 legislators and draws 3-4 percent of the vote.

Still, over a month after Park was removed from office, the grassy square outside of City Hall Station is filled with older conservatives waving Korean and American flags while bemoaning what they consider “a conspiracy to communize the South under the pretext of the unjustifiable presidential impeachment,” as a sign says.

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Representing the Saenuri supporters who still can’t let go of impeachment is Rep. Cho Won-jin, a legislator who has newly constituted a party with the name Saenuri and says he will “punish those who led her impeachment and seek Park’s release.”

But even the new Saenuri Party isn’t enough to satisfy all never-let-go conservatives. So on April 19, outside Sinchon Station, a university district nearby Yonsei and Ihwa universities lined with bars and restaurants, flag-waving middle-aged and senior Koreans campaigned for Nam Jae-jun, who served as leader of the National Intelligence Service under Park.

Nam, who represents the Unification Korea Party (or Patriotic Korea Party), said in 2013, “Unification is possible in 2015. Let’s die together to bring about the unification of our land under liberal democracy.”

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Moon Jae-in wins Korean Democratic Party nomination, Becomes favorite for presidency

Moon Jae-in, who lost Korea’s 2012 presidential to the now arrested former president Park Geun-hye and served as an aide to president Roh Moo-hyun, has officially won the Minjoo (Democratic) Party’s nomination and is the favorite to win Korea’s presidential election on May 9.

B+D editor Mitchell Blatt presents some links to explain what to look for in the election:
As the Korea Herald‘s Jo He-rim points out, Moon is considered by his supporters as a liberal defender of civil rights:

A native of Geoje, South Gyeongsang Province, Moon was a human rights lawyer-turned-chief of staff to liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, before entering the National Assembly in 2012. … As a former member of Lawyers for a Democratic Society, or Minbyeon, Moon has built an image as a champion of human rights and democracy as well as an advocate of a fair and just society.

His core support base is made up of liberal-minded voters who idolize the late former President Roh. A large proportion of supporters of the Democratic Party regard him as the successor to continue the legacy of the late president, who championed making politics work for ordinary citizens, not for those with vested rights.

Full article: Moon seals Democratic primary victory

But Moon’s connections to Minbyeon (also called Minbyun) and to Roh are viewed with suspicion by conservatives who consider the group and the former president to be radical leftists. Minbyun has even taken court actions aimed at forcing 12 North Korean defectors to testify in circumstances that could expose them or their families to harm.

About two months after fleeing their oppressive homeland, 12 former workers of a North Korean restaurant in China on Tuesday faced a legal debate over the legitimacy of their stay here under state protection.

Pyongyang also claims that the new arrivals were “lured and kidnapped” by South Korean agents and demands their repatriation.

The spy agency has declined the association’s appeal to meet with them at their shelter, saying the restaurant servers had volunteered to come.

Yet controversy is simmering as the court issued a summons to the 12 people, fueling concerns over their safety and that of their family members left behind in the North.

Joshua Stanton, an American who writes the conservative blog FreeKorea.us, wrote on the subject:
Minbyun’s frivolous lawfare terrorizes 12 young N. Korean refugees & endangers lives.
S. Korea’s quisling left goes all-out to bully N. Koreans out of defecting, and it just might work

Roh Moo-hyun is also criticized for having continued the Sunshine Policy towards North Korea and held “anti-American” views. As John Lee, a conservative Korea columnist, told Bombs + Dollars, Roh even asked on national TV, “What is wrong with being anti-American?”

A memoir by Song Min-soon, who served as foreign minister during Roh’s presidency, even claims that Moon advised Roh to solicit advice from North Korea before voting on a UN referendum on North Korean human rights abuses.

Kim Hyo-jin explained in the Korea Times:

According to Song’s memoir, amid a sharp dispute between top officials over whether South Korea should vote in favor of or against the U.N. resolution in November 2007, then-intelligence chief Kim Man-bok floated the idea of asking North Korea’s opinion directly, which Presidential Chief of Staff Moon accepted, saying “let’s check through an inter-Korean channel.”

A few days later, Song was informed that North Korea said it would closely keep an eye on the South’s vote, warning of the possibility of dangerous circumstances in inter-Korean relations. Baek Jong-chun, then chief secretary on foreign and security policy, delivered a note describing the response to Song in person while accompanying the President at his residence.

At that time, President Roh told Song “Let’s go for abstention now that we’ve already asked. We shouldn’t have asked,” Song wrote in his memoir.

Full article: Memoir puts Moon Jae-in in hot water

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Korea’s impeached president Park Geun-hye arrested

Does the law apply to presidents?

Former president Park Geun-hye, who was removed from office on March 10, was arrested this morning, South Korea time, in connection to the corruption scandal that caused her impeachment. She is facing 13 potential charges, and she can be held for up to 20 days before she must be either released or indicted. She is suspected of having coerced companies like Samsung to donate US$70 million to groups linked to her aide, Choi Soon-sil, who has also been arrested, in exchange for providing political favors.

Park becomes the latest in a long line of disgraced ex-Korean presidents.

The last time South Korean presidents were arrested was 1995, when Chun Doo-hwan and his successor Roh Tae-woo were charged and convicted in relation to the coup that brought Chun to power and the Gwangju Massacre of 1980, a military suppression of a protest-turned-riot that killed hundreds. Both were pardoned in December 1997, in an effort to bring reconciliation to the young democracy.

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Mitch Blatt in The National Interest on North Korea

Bombs + Dollars editor Mitchell Blatt was published in The National Interest‘s website on U.S.-China relations with regard to North Korea.

Although he put Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments in context, noting that they don’t necessarily mean a vast change in policy, he did say that certain actions the U.S. has already taken, like the deployment of THAAD, and any possible change in policy to be more aggressive, are not acts of provocation but rather responses to growing North Korean provocations.

“But if the Trump administration does up the ante, it will be because proposals to engage in toothless talks with North Korea—like that made this week by Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi—have utterly failed, and China hasn’t done its part to try to reign in its rogue frenemy,” he wrote. “Juxtaposed against its vitriolic response to the South Korean deployment of Terminal High Area Altitude Defense, China’s impassive response to multiple North Korean nuclear tests, always predicated on the same “firm opposition” talking point, which makes it look like China hasn’t been taking the threat of a nuclear North seriously.”

He pointed out that China hasn’t been faithfully enforcing some of the sanctions they agreed to against North Korea.

In summary, “As long as North Korea is an out-of-control threat, South Korea will need to take tough actions. China is reaping what it sowed from years of complacency.”

The whole article can be read here: Why China Must Confront North Korea.

The UK’s MoneyWeek also quoted Blatt’s article:

On the contrary, “China has largely itself to blame” if the US now pursues a more militaristic agenda towards North Korea, says Mitchell Blatt in the American magazine The National Interest. Beijing has spent years “turning a blind eye to sanctions violators and keeping the dangerous North Korean regime alive and its leaders well fed”, so it is not surprising that Washington now thinks “enough is enough”. China has also reneged on promises to limit imports of North Korean coal. Overall, “if China wants to avoid instability, then China must take an active role and take responsibility”.

Blatt also has an article about South Korea-China relations coming out in The Korea Times on Tuesday.

John Lee on Korea’s election, North Korea, and why South Korea isn’t “ethnically pure”

John-Lee-copyJohn Lee is the Conservative Columnist at NK News and the writer behind The Korean Foreigner. Born in Brunei to immigrant parents, Lee was educated in English (a legacy of British colonialism) and then went to study in the U.S., before taking up citizenship in his ancestral Korea. As such, he says he feels like “a foreigner in my own country.” I interviewed him about the upcoming Korean elections, policy towards North Korea, Korean politics, and other topics.

Mitchell Blatt: There’s been lots of news about North Korea launching missiles and threatening to test an ICBM that could hit the U.S. South Korea is having elections, and the Trump administration seems to be suggesting that they might take a more aggressive policy towards North Korea. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the time for “strategic patience” is over. Do you think that Trump and Tillerson are going in the right direction on this?
John Lee: I don’t think that either Donald Trump or Tillerson are going in any direction regarding North Korea. Just recently they said that all options are still on the table. But that’s the same thing they’ve been saying since the Clinton administration. And anytime you say, ‘All options are on the table,’ what that means is, yeah, we have options, but we haven’t picked one yet. So I think they’re just going with being ‘tough’ on North Korea as far as their rhetoric goes, but I am not convinced that their rhetoric can be backed up by any significant actions.

Blatt: Suppose there was an attempt to go in a new direction. Do you think a new direction is needed?
Lee: If by “new direction,” you mean something more kinetic, then I think that would be a horrible idea. I think deterrence has worked for the past seventy years, and I think it can continue to work. Strong deterrence militarily and economic sanctions, I believe will help contain the situation as much as possible, but something more kinetic would involve a lot of human lives being lost. I think that would be the absolute worst case sanctions.

Blatt: China is talking about trying to open up four party talks. What kind of role does China play in this, and is there any possibility for China to play a bigger role in keeping North Korea in check?
Lee: I think China’s role is more limited than people think it is. It has been proven repeatedly that the North Koreans do not listen to China all that much. China does not want the North Koreans to conduct these missile tests, but they’re conducting them anyway. Recently, because of the unofficial sanctions that the Chinese has imposed on South Korea, China has lost a lot of good will with the South Koreans, too. Four party talks might be enticing for the next progressive government, but I think they will have a hard time juggling the economic interests of China with the military alliance of the United States. The military alliance, as much as they [the progressives] disdain it, is not something that they can just ignore. It would just be irresponsible.

Blatt: One of the big sticking points there is THAAD, and most of the Minjoo Party candidates over the past year have opposed it, but now they seem to be shifting their positions. Do you think in the end, they are going to—if not support THAAD—support the status quo, which is the deployment of THAAD?

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The implications of Park’s removal from office for Korea

Korean president Park Geun-hye was officially removed from office this morning, Korea time, three months after she was impeached in a bribery scandal. New elections are scheduled for before May 9. The opposition is almost certainly going to win–either the Minjoo Party, which is currently the plurality in the legislature, or the People’s Party. Moon Jae-in is the frontrunner for the Minjoo Party nomination and thus probably the frontrunner for the presidency.

Korean parties fuse and change and rebrand all the time, so of course Park’s Saenuri party has already rechristened itself the Liberty Korea Party. It stands little to no chance. In the last poll released before Park’s impeachment, Park’s approval rating was 5 percent, and the Saenuri/LKP’s support dropped from 34 percent in November 2016 to 12 percent in January 2017.

What this means for the future of THAAD’s deployment is uncertain. (Maitra: THAAD deployment will not soothe Korean tensions.) The Korean opposition had opposed THAAD for the past year, but in January both Moon and People’s Party leader Ahn Cheol-soo expressed that they might be reconsidering their opposition on the basis that it would hurt U.S. relations to retreat from a decision that was already made (by Park’s administration).

Bombs + Dollars will have more coverage of Korea and its elections over the next weeks and months from editor Mitch Blatt, who is on the ground here. For now, enjoy this article I wrote for my travel blog, which explains some of the divides in Korean politics and society: Why some Koreans are still supporting Park Geun-hye at a March 1 Independence Day rally.

And enjoy these photos from the scene of the celebration by Park’s opposition:
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