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South Korea’s illiberal left: authoritarians in the service of totalitarians

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. [Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19]

In America, we have grown accustomed to a political polarity in which we associate “left” with “liberal.” Whatever the merits of that correlation here, it’s useless to any understanding of politics in South Korea, where very few people on either side of the political spectrum can be described as liberal, and the only real candidate for that description — at the least the only candidate I can offer — is a member of the “right” Saenuri Party. For the most part, the Korean right has never overcome the authoritarian reputation Park Chung-Hee and Chun Doo-Hwan gave it, and the arrival of democracy did not mean the end of the old right’s use of an overbroad National Security Law to censor nonviolent speech that wiser men would have held up to ridicule and criticism instead.

Meanwhile, the Korean left seems to have dedicated itself to justifying the continued need for the National Security Law, and to making its own criticism of the NSL, however legitimate in isolation, seem hypocritical in the broader context.

In the history of “democratic” South Korea, it is the left that has been responsible for the most pervasive and pernicious censorship. During the Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun years, the Korean left censored human rights activists, refugees, newspapers, and playwrights, acting as Pyongyang’s thought police in the South. To the extent Minju-dang and Uri governments didn’t directly censor criticism of Kim Jong Il, they effectively practiced vicarious censorship, standing by while left-wing unions and “civic” groups used violence to suppress it. They even subsidized the unions and civic groups that were responsible for the worst of the street violence.

In many cases, the Korean left’s political leanings have been exposed as illiberal or totalitarian. On more occasions than I could ever describe here, members of “left” parties, and the civic groups and labor unions that support them, have been caught propagating Pyongyang’s ideology or acting as its agents for espionage — even violent attacks in support of a putative North Korean invasion.

Thus, what American and European liberals almost always get wrong about the Korean left is how illiberal it is, and how little it has in common with them. The Korean left lacks the liberal passion for protecting the vulnerable. American liberals want to lift restrictions on immigration and spare illegal immigrants from deportation; the South Korean left despises North Korean refugees and heaps abuse on them. It would rather let them die in place than offend Pyongyang by letting them in. Euro-American liberals loathe racism and nationalism; the Korean left propagates and exploits them. Euro-American labor unions fight for decent pay and working conditions globally; the Korean left supports the slavery and exploitation of its fellow Koreans at Kaesong. Traditionally, Euro-American liberals stood for freedom of expression. The Korean left would sacrifice the right of South Koreans to speak nonviolently, and of North Koreans to freedom of information, to appease the totalitarians in Pyongyang:

The main opposition party on Wednesday proposed a bill requiring government approval to send propaganda leaflets to North Korea as part of efforts to help ease simmering inter-Korean tensions.

The move by the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) comes as South Korean activists’ sending of balloons with anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border has been a source of inter-Korean rows and tensions.

Pyongyang has urged Seoul to block such activities, while Seoul insists it has no legal ground to regulate their “freedom of speech.”

According to the revision bill to the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act proposed by Rep. Yoon Hu-duk of the NPAD, currencies, leaflets and any printed materials shall be added to the category of goods that need to be approved by the unification ministry before they can be sent across the inter-Korean border.

It also stipulates that the minister must give the go-ahead “to unspecified individuals with mobile equipment, including balloons,” before they can be launched.

The revision bill would also ban the unification minister from giving the green light to sending items into North Korea that “could cause legitimate concerns of hurting inter-Korean exchange and cooperation.”

“The leaflet campaign has hampered the recent thawing inter-Korean mood and posed threats to the safety of the people residing near the border regions,” Rep. Yoon said.

Criticizing the Seoul government for “sitting idle and doing nothing to regulate the activities,” the lawmaker said the revision bill would give the government a legal ground for regulating such activities to help protect residents and improve inter-Korean ties. [Yonhap]

Now take a moment and read about one of the people the NPAD wants to censor. Read about his life’s history, as described by the European liberalism’s newspaper of record:

The food shortage hit my family in 1997. My mother, my wife, and my son died of hunger that winter. The boy was always frail, he died because he could not eat properly.

All my family had died apart from my eldest child. I decided to escape North Korea so that he could live.

I had always lived in obedience to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, but the death of my family changed that. Once I had dreamt of communism being achieved, listening to the lectures of the Kim family every day – but it was only a delusion.

Rebelling against the country would only lead to death. I decided to leave. [The Guardian]

The man fled to survive, but once outside North Korea, freedom of information showed him that it was also possible to live:

Despite the hardships, I tried to listen to South Korean broadcasts every night and sometimes people who had worked there would tell me stories. There was a programme called “To the People of the Workers’ Party” – the presenters were knowledgeable about the reality of North Korea. This is when I realised South Korea was not what I thought it would be. I decided to try to get there.

Today, he is one of the activists who sends leaflets into North Korea. Freedom of information transformed his life, and today, he wants to exercise his new right to speak freely, to give freedom of information to those he left behind. These are the rights — the universally guaranteed rights — that the NPAD wants to deny its fellow Koreans.

Can you imagine The Hankyoreh printing this story? Its editors wouldn’t tolerate it, and its readers would seethe at it.

I don’t think most people would call me a liberal, but I suppose it was around the time the angry left started to call itself “progressive” that I stopped using the word “liberal” pejoratively and attached a certain reverence to it. If liberalism still stands for things like tolerance and equality and nonviolence and free expression and free love, then Korea’s left does not deserve to be called liberal. Instead, it has degenerated to little more than authoritarianism in the service of totalitarianism.

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This post was edited after publication.

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Gerry Bevers, Tokdo, and the Heckler’s Veto

Kind words about your thoughts mean all the more when they come from someone like Kevin Kim, a/k/a The Big Hominid. Kevin, who reads and writes in fluent French, speaks fluent Korean, and creates art and books that people pay real money for, is what people call a “renaissance man.” He’s even created photoshop icons for pretty much every k-blog but this one….

Kevin links to what he calls my “awesome … ranticle” (thanks!) on the Marmot thread about the attempt by the UNIVERSITY that employs Gerry Bevers to silence his private opinions about Tokdo, arguing for the strength of Japan’s historical claim to the Tokdo/Takeshima islets. Bevers says his boss told him that the university was getting complaints about his detailed blog postings on Occidentalism, and that he should stop writing blog posts about the subject (Who is this Tokdo, you may ask?). Bevers agreed. Later, however, Bevers was called in and told that his teaching contract would not be renewed, and that Tokdo was at least one reason for the non-renewal. Bevers claims to have received excellent evaluations from his students and supervisors, but he will now have to leave Korea after living there for several decades because his visa was contingent on his employment. There is no allegation that Bevers stated or discussed his views of Tokdo on the job. He taught English.

You can read the whole discussion here. My own comments are at 78 and 112. After seeing on what level the discussion started, I had to overrule my better judgment to participate. Fortunately, my better judgment is used to not getting its way by now.

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First Act, Last Laugh, Part 2

I have a message  for whomever tried to stop “Yoduk Story” from playing in Seoulread, weep, and know that you have failed.


“Whomever,” according to producer Jung Sung-San and the daily Chosun Ilbo (which backed YS), is  someone  in the South Korean government.  Eventually, the South Korean government got around to denying this.  Personally, I wasn’t there.  All I can say is that the accusation is  consistent with other things the South Korean government has done to  cover for the North Koreans  (censoring defectors, censoring opposition media, beating a human rights activist,  and ordering police to  shadow peaceful protestors, to name a few). 

Another possibility I can’t rule out  is that  the threats were the work of  pro-North or radical  groups in the South, which have carried out  death threats  against defectors, blocked the U.S. Ambassador  from attending an interview, and engaged in  violent attacks on U.S. service members  (see page 15)).  If so, the government certainly didn’t exercise itself to defend freedom of expression from the threat of politically motivated violence.  The threats that caused several investors to pull out of YS  came several months after the Korean press first reported them.   I have sometimes characterized the state’s deliberate absention from enforcing the rule of law, “vicarious censorship.”


Whatever the government’s ultimate culpability,  it must rue the results:  a wave of free publicity, high-level U.S. government attention, and eventually,  a triumphant U.S. tour.  The L.A. Times takes it from here:

A musical about life in a North Korean concentration camp that features heartbreaking lyrics, such as, “In my dreams I can still see my starving brothers and sisters,” drew standing-room-only crowds brought in by the busload during its four-night Los Angeles run, which ended Sunday.

When an unexpected snag only a few days before its opening meant the show could not be performed at the Scottish Rite Auditorium in Hancock Park, a coalition of local Korean American churches scrambled to find a new venue. The churches then decided to offer free admission. Hundreds of people each night were turned away.

What might have been a last-minute show-stopper worked to Jung’s favor when the musical’s organizers rolled with it:

Jung and the South Korean cast members had their hands full after arriving in Los Angeles. Less than a week before the opening, they learned that their planned venue, the Scottish Rite Auditorium, had been closed by court order after a prolonged battle with local residents over traffic and noise. The Korean Church Coalition, which was sponsoring the musical, had already sold 4,000 tickets at up to $80 apiece.

When the churches could not find another theater for the troupe, they decided to present “Yoduk Story” at Holy Hill Community Church near downtown Los Angeles. The church has 1,500 seats, 200 fewer than the Scottish Rite; the stage is about a fifth the size and there is no curtain.

The Korean churches refunded the ticket money and decided to offer the show free, underwriting the $300,000 cost and hoping that donations at the performances would offset some of their costs.

Kwan S. Oh, a deacon at Bethel Korean Church in Irvine, believes it was a good move. He said he wants second-generation Korean Americans “to know what we’re talking about in North Korea,” he said. Maybe the last-minute shuffling “was God’s way of making it so that everybody could come for free.”

Because scores were turned away from the packed auditorium Thursday night, people began lining up outside the church with picnic lunches about 2 p.m. Friday in hopes of getting a good seat. On Saturday night, organizers set up an outdoor screen so 200 people could watch by closed-circuit television.

I attended on opening night here in DC, at Strathmore Hall.  As I’ve already noted, I am not a theater critic.  I generally hate musicals too much to even  bear  sitting through them, but I went anyway, for political reasons and to blog about what I saw.  My full report is  here.  If my endorsement sounds less than rousing, it’s because my lack  of artistic qualifications prevents me from saying anything stonger than this:  YS definitely did not suck.  While it was too emotionally jarring to be “enjoyable,” it  held my interest and  looked like  good art.  No one fell down during any of the dance numbers, the singing sounded good, the characters were  interesting, and the sets and lighting looked great.  Certain scenes seemed schmaltzy, but I’d probably say the same at Les Miz, because  the musical genre itself is the height of schmaltz.  The other audience members responded well.  You could feel the love.  “Packed house” probably overstates it, but the hall — and it was very large — looked to be about 70% full.


Thanks to a reader for sending, and congratulations to those who worked so hard to bring “Yoduk Story” here.  That includes myself, I guess, after the whole day I spent putting up posters and passing out leaflets.

(photos from here)

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Now, they’re intimidating the opposition press:

Chosun Ilbo honorary chairman Bang Woo-young (78) was attacked by two men in broad daylight on his way home from the family graveyard in Uijeongbu. After an event commemorating the 22nd anniversary of the death of former Chosun Ilbo president Bang Eung-mo on Friday, his car stopped to enter a two-lane road ahead and two men in their 20s approached it and smashed the rear window with bricks.

S’pose there will be any arrests?  S’pose not.  You can chalk the absence of a serious investigation up to vicarious censorship.  True, the Korean National Police are drooling incompetents, but incompetent police should be retrained or fired.  There is no excuse for anyone to get away with this sort of thing.  The people who did this should be pursued with diligence, and anyone who ordered them to do it should be exposed and prosecuted.

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Key Congressional Staffers Speak Out on Free Speech, FTA

First, the obvious: the prognosis is bleak for the six-party talks. This from Democratic staffer Frank Januzzi. Januzzi spins this as Congress and the President (read: Republicans) avoiding responsibility, but a much more likely explanation is that Congress hates the deal so much that it won’t appropriate the funds to buy tribute for Pyongyang, particularly without forthcoming admissions about uranium and counterfeiting. You can’t blame any political party for North Korea’s intransigence and dishonesty. The same argument can be reversed: it’s not fair to blame Bill Clinton for North Korean cheating on the Agreed Framework, although you might blame him for tolerating that cheating, and for signing a bad deal to begin with. . . .

Dennis Halpin, almost certainly the most important Korea staffer in Congress and an occasional contributor to this blog, put Free Trade Agreement talks into a light I hadn’t considered:

Dennis Halpin of the House International Relations Committee warned of growing Chinese influence on the peninsula. “Korea is a ripe apple, swinging to fall on the lap of China,” he said, but added a free trade agreement between the U.S. and Korea could be used to improve the two countries’ relations.

But there are sticking points in the talks of course. Halpin, a conservative Republican, suggested that Democratic pickups could imperil an agreement, although I will respectfully differ from my friend in that not all factions of the Democratic Party would necessarily oppose an FTA. As he no doubt knows better than me, it probably depends more on the interests of the particular district.

And now for a matter closer to my heart:

Halpin also cited press reports that Seoul is trying to block the production of a musical about a North Korean concentration camp, and urged the South to take more active issue with human rights abuses in the North.

I distantly remember a time when liberalism stood up for free speech everywhere. The ex-Marmot notes–and it’s a fair criticism–that the South Korean government still isn’t on record admitting or denying the story. After a day or so, however, it seems this argument turns on itself. One would suspect that an issue that’s raised the ire of the House’s professional staff, and by extension, its most important members, would be worth a prompt denial and refutation if it’s false. It’s not enough, however, for the government to cease its pressure on Yodok Story. The government is responsible for upholding the rule of law within its borders. No matter who is threatening and silencing Yodok Story must be found, caught, and punished in accordance with the law. Vicarious censorship and censorship by withdrawal of state protection are just as oppressive as direct government action. Too many times, the government has shown a willingness to turn aside while thugs do Kim Jong Il’s work on the streets of Seoul.

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Minister of Historical Amnesia

Updated again Nov. 3; thanks to reader usinkorea for the hat tip; thanks to the Marmot for linking and to his readers for stopping by.

Once again, anti-Unification Minister Chung Dong Young has opened his mouth, and once again, nothing good came out of it. The latest nominal justification for giving Chung a supply of ink so far out of proportion to his intellect is the 55th anniversary of the Korea Times. Chung’s first sentence, however, makes it apparent that the real reason is the rollout of Chung for President ’07 (the article includes a photograph depicting the precise moment Chung sealed his pact with Satan, which is a rare event in law and politics). It’s all very gauzy stuff, and reads like it was sprayed onto a silkscreen. His first sentence reads like an unintentional parody of Martin Luther King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail:

When I was a college student majoring in history, I was once detained on charges of demonstrating against the constitutional amendment drawn up by the then dictatorial Park Chung-hee government.

Sitting in a jail cell, I pondered over a historical supposition, which is usually regarded as a taboo among historians. While French philosopher Blaise Pascal once said for his intellectual pleasure, “If Cleopatra’s nose had been a little shorter, the history of the world might have been different,” I then thought in grief, “If our politicians had been more gravely concerned about our future”¦” (emphasis mine)

Of course, analogies are always imperfect. For one, Martin Luther King was fighting for freedom, and for the equality of all citizens under the law. And while King’s stints in jail were not lengthy, Chung was, to borrow his own carefully chosen term, “detained,” not convicted or sentenced–briefly, one presumes. For most of his post-college life, Chung was a journalist–make that pretty-boy news-reader–as opposed to a silenced and persecuted dissident. Nothing I was able to find mentions Chung’s particular prominence or sacrifice for anything, in contrast to, say, Lee Hai Chan, who did four years in prison, or Kim Moon Soo, who did several stretches, including one that lasted three years. Being “detained,” suggests something more akin to the experience of a drunken frat boy after a wild night in South Padre.

(If South Korea maintains at least one point of contact with reality, Kim Moon Soo would slaughter this man in a general election matchup.)

But of course, what’s really galling about Chung’s MLK act is how hard Chung has worked to divert attention from modern day horrors like this. According to Chung, “Human rights problems in communist countries have never been solved by way of applying pressure.” Chung’s policies have inestimably reduced the odds that those living and dying in these conditions will ever be free again. You want to know about hard time, Minister Chung? Take a page from President Bush’s calendar and find a few minutes for Kang Chol Hwan. Kang is one of very few to have survived to contemplate that experience. As Chung himself says, if only politicians were more gravely concerned about their future. Until then, give us a fucking break, k?

This is the part where Chung shows us his erudition by reflecting on history. Almost instantly, it goes terribly awry.

Tracing back the history of Korea, this year is quite significant; it marks both the 60th anniversary of the nation’s liberation from the Japanese colonial rule and centennial of the Katsura-Taft Agreement, signed between Japanese Prime Minister Katsura and the U.S. Foreign Minister Taft, which led to Korea’s national tragedy of becoming a colony of Japan.

This closed-door agreement mediated by then U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt provided that Japan turn over its control over the Philippines to the U.S. in return for the U.S. acknowledgement of Japan’s predominance over the Korean Peninsula.

Two alert readers have now pointed out that Chung can’t even keep his Roosevelts straight. Theodore Roosevelt, not Franklin, was President in 1905. Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, won the Nobel Prize for negotiating the Treaty of Portsmouth to end the Russo-Japanese War, by which time Japan had uncontested naval dominance of the Northwest Pacific. The Taft-Katsura agreement paved the way for that peace treaty and the end of the war. Taft was not the Foreign Minister–this position has actually never existed in the U.S. government–he was in fact the Secretary of War. Franklin Roosevelt, Theodore’s younger cousin and a Democrat, was twenty-three at the time of the Taft-Katsura “gentleman’s agreement.” Finally, there could not possibly have been an agreement that “Japan turn over its control over the Philippines,” because in 1905, Japan had no such control, and the United States already had it. Sure, there are things from college I don’t remember, either, but we’re in Dennis Hopper territory now. I mean, can you imagine if G.W. Bush or Dan Quayle had tried to pass off such manifest ignorance as insight?

Beyond this, I’m completely unsympathetic to Korean complaints about Taft-Katsura, and not merely because of the expiration of the statute of limitations. Of course, there would have been no annexation but for Korea’s own political perfidy and economic weakness, the latter condition mostly a result of the very xenophobia for which Korea shows such a lingering affinity.

How little times have changed. In some ways, Korea’s self-perfidy (in the South) and isolation (in the North) are no less great today.

What exactly does Korea expect for the United States to have done here? Was it really in the interests of the United States to get into a naval war with Japan over faraway Korea just after Japan had shellacked the Russian Navy at the Tsushima Strait and Port Arthur? Would the U.S. navy have fared better? What in fact did U.S. acquiesence change that wouldn’t have happened anyway? What was the U.S. obligation to, or interest in, Korea? Finally–how was that agreement somehow more nefarious and conniving than Roh’s own gentleman’s agreement with Kim Jong Il, which in essence tells the people of North Korea to rot in hell?

It is, indeed, ironic that after the agreement, President Roosevelt received the Nobel peace prize, while the Korean Peninsula was annexed to Japan. It is such a tragic reality that we have taken a backseat, and never had the opportunity to take charge in deciding on our own future.

I don’t disagree that there have been many ironies in the choices of Nobel Peace Prize awardees, but it’s hard to find a better specific example than this; hey, at least TR ended a war.

I don’t know what other significance survives the factual errors here, other than that I seem to recall that this younger President Roosevelt was also involved in some interaction with Japan that affected Korea’s fate in some significant way. But it’s obviously not that important if it’s slipped Chung’s mind, too. The man is a historian.

On Aug. 15, 1945, our people rejoiced over the end of the war and national liberation, but on the same day we were also divided into two nations, the South and the North, and still have to live in an era of tension and confrontation.

And help me remember–who was President after the younger Roosevelt again? Safe to assume he never did anything for Korea, either. Same with the guy who followed him, too, I suppose.

Welcome to the alternative reality of Chung Dong-Young, in which the United States, not the Yi emperors, sold Korea to Japan. In which Korea’s liberation from Japan was a spontaneous occurrence, apparently unrelated to all the fuss in Tarawa, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Bataan, or the Burma Road. In which the United States (not those who refused to hold free, U.N.-supervised, pan-Korean elections) divided Korea in two, and in which 1953 appears to be significant for some vanishing reason, although no one is sure quite what leads up to it. South Korea is running a terrific trade deficit in blame these days, and it’s causing a liquidity crisis for its dwindling reserve of truth.

Chung, of course, is not an isolated nut. He’s a nut of national significance. Under those circumstances, it’s hard to assign too much significance to the fact that a neo-Communist teachers’ union is peddling Marxism to the kiddies, although I’m glad to see the press talking about it, and hope that there will be a backlash leading to debate, argument, and enlightenment. In fact, I ardently wish for the exposure of all historical distortions passed off as education, something that has incurred the wrath of Chung’s party and inspired some positively ghastly manipulation of schoolchildren by some South Korean teachers. Just last April, as South Korea was entering its second abstention against a U.N. resolution calling on North Korea to ratify the Convention Against Torture and give free access to the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, the South Korean delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Commission was still obsessing over–you guessed it–Japanese textbooks.

Of course, history must be rewritten incrementally, and some scholars and patriots of “deep ethnic purity” do carry things too far, too fast. And isn’t it regrettable that some old-fashioned, reactionary minds make a big deal about it?

However, the reality is that a so-called South-South conflict, an ideological division among the South Korean people over the inter-Korean issues lingers within us.

Therefore, it is such a pity that some people still immersed in a totalitarian mindset used Professor Kang Jeong-koo’s historical viewpoint on North Korea to instigate a South-South conflict and conjure up the ghost of the Cold War.

Chung is actually blaming Kang’s critics for starting a messy ideological disagreement–otherwise called public discourse–because Kang himself stated that Korea would have been better off if Kim Il Sung had been permitted to unify the country by force.

I, as unification minister, do not agree with Professor Kang’s point of view. His arguments are not consistent with historical facts, and there are huge jumps in his logical reasoning. Hence, I believe that there are few who agree on his point of view.

French philosopher Voltaire emphasized the human rights of criminal suspects, saying to a suspect who was in custody on charges of murder, “I do not agree with your ideas but I will fight for your right to state your opinions. Two hundred and forty years have passed since then, and it is such a shame to see a resurrection of a witch-hunt that existed back in the middle ages, in a liberal democratic country which guarantees the freedom of thought.

What’s saddest about this is that Chung manages to come closer to saying the right things about free speech than Park Geun Hye, although Chung’s criticism of Kang ends with the word “but,” naturally enough, before he moves on to his false piety. The GNP brought this argument on itself, and I’ve said plenty about that. What Chung doesn’t mention is his own party’s authoritarian behavior in power, including attempts to muzzle the press, permitting the beating of a peaceful human rights activist, permitting vicarious censorship by pro-Pyongyang militant street thugs, confiscating leaflets, and unlawfully detaining peaceful protestors. Worst of all, the South Korean government fails to uphold the rule of law in the face of political violence, effectively giving that violence a veto and making it increasingly risky to go to a protest without a big stick.

And let us not forget that Chung would not so much as lift a pen to defend the right, someday, of any North Korean to speak freely. His government’s explicit goal is the maintenance of that regime–and I challenge anyone to show me evidence that there has been a more repressive, barbaric regime than North Korea’s since Pol Pot fled to the hills.

Our citizens, who have been sick and tired of ideological debates for a long time, do not wish to witness the revival of the Cold War and look forward to seeing a bright and hopeful future.

From a different perspective, the incident involving Professor Kang can be regarded as froth, which comes to the surface in the stream of massive historical changes on the Korean Peninsula. The froth will soon dissolve in the huge current of history.

I am confident that if we dismantle internal Cold War confrontations, there will be a bright and hopeful future opening before us.

Whatev. Chung is really saying that is sick of the GNP trying to separate Chung from his base by forcing him to actually repudiate their violence and support for the world’s most totalitarian system of government (meet Chung’s base). Chung wants us to clear away these distractions so that we can concentrate on the main point: sometimes, prolonging the reign of murderous totalitarianism is the humanitarian thing to do.

In fact, North Korea’s land stands for not only our realities but also our future. If we step on the territory of North Korea, we will realize that not one single plant or tree is different from those of the South [links added by OFK].

We are assisting the North not just to help North Korea but also to help ourselves because it is on this territory that our people have lived for thousands of years and will live together.

Thus, we are obliged to help the North build SOCs and infrastructure including roads, railways and ports.

And we shouldn’t forget “nuclear weapons, 40 Soviet-made MiG jets and a submarine from Kazakhstan.” How can North Korea be expected to feed 6.5 million starving people without submarines, fer crying out loud?

Then comes this:

The first was that among the 191 member countries to the United Nations, 140 countries came to being as sovereign states after 1945, and only two of them have been able to independently establish democracy during the 60-year period and develop their economies with a per capita income of more than $15,000. The exceptional cases were Israel and Korea.

Someone help me out here. What exactly has been independent about the establishment of democracy in either Israel or South Korea? I could think of dozens of other nations that have democratized with far less U.S. support, but so could you, and I don’t have all week. As for the rise in incomes in Israel and South Korea, U.S. aid and protection no doubt did wonders to stimulate both economies and encourage foreign investment. And his point? That the pursuit of freedom for North Koreans is pointless? Maybe, if you believe that the North Koreans are less human than these people. Or these.

[B]y the end of this year, more than 170,000 South Koreans would have stepped on North Korean land since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

Especially, the year 2005 will mark a watershed in the history of inter-Korean relations since it opens up an era of active exchanges of personnel with more than 100,000 South Koreans visiting the North annually. Moreover, if we include the 300,000 South Korean tourists’ visits to Mt. Kumgang, the total number will top 400,000 this year.

Impertinent to ask, I know, but how many North Koreans (aside from refugees and frogmen) have been allowed to stroll around Namdaemun on shopping jaunts, or to experience the night life in Myongdong or Apkujong? Chung’s vision of engagement–a vision he shares with Kim Jong Il–excludes the people of North Korea, except for those selected to labor in Hyundai factories for $58 a month.

Minus “voluntary payments” to the Dear Leader, of course.

Update: The Pusan chapter of the Korean Teachers’ Union has a truly astonishing response to the outpouring of criticism of its crude and profane work of propaganda, accusing the press of covering the story from an “ideologically biased perspective.” Since that’s a completely self-parodying statement, I won’t waste keystrokes. On the other hand, I’m actually impressed with how Park Geun-Hye and the GNP have handled this one so far:

The GNP has formed a fact-finding committee to investigate the materials. GNP chairwoman Park Geun-hye told a meeting of the party’s senior lawmakers the issue was not political but went to the question of true education, “whose aim is to guide students in the right direction and teach civic values. The materials reportedly portray APEC as a tool of multinational corporations and the U.S., and invite students to stage protests against the November forum in the city.

And just to completely reverse the roles back to where they belong, the Uri government is back to its cowardly old self:

However, the Information Communication Ethics Committee has turned down a request from the Education Ministry to censure the materials. “Based on comprehensive scrutiny of the content and intention of the class materials, we have decided that they are not so excessively derogatory as to threaten social order, although they could minimally dampen international ties,” it said. The ministry has nonetheless ordered local education offices to take legal action if unionized teachers use the materials in class without the approval of principals.

It’s one thing to say that people should be free to speak their opinions, but quite another to say that schools systems can’t set higher academic standards than this. I see a great political issue. If you really want to scare Korean parents, try giving their kids an unmarketable education in Marxist economics.

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Carnival of the Revolutions, 29 August 2005

Welcome to the Carnival of the Revolutions edition for August 29th. Hosting next week’s edition (Sept. 5) will be Thinking-East; next up (Sept. 12) is Quid Nimis. Updates added, typos fixed.

East Asia and the Pacific Rim

Burma: Did the government’s army use chemical weapons against Karen rebels earlier this year? The Jubilee Campaign, a Christian human rights NGO, prints an editorial by Lord David Alton, a member of the British House of Lords. Publius reports on new rumors of a coup in Rangoon.

China: Publius looks at growing income inequality in China and the parallel rise in unrest that is worrying the regime’s leaders. Simon World has a fascinating post about Chinese and Indian political scientists’ forecasts for both nations as emerging powers. D.J. McGuire at China-e-Lobby sees a papal capitulation to the Chinese authorities, who have an uncharacteristic enthusiasm for competition when it comes to Catholic Churches. He also reminds us that it has now been 56 years since the leaders of the formerly independent East Turkestan were killed in a mysterious plane crash on the way to Beijing for talks with Mao, who responded by sending in the Chinese army.

China is having an oil crisis; just have a look at this photograph from the New York Times. Simon World looks at the reasons behind it, and finds that government interference has compounded market pressures. How can this fail to have a significant impact on China’s economy? The Peking Duck has more.

Quid Nimis reports on the strange case of the Gitmo Uigurs whom the U.S. military captured in Afghanistan. The military doesn’t think the men are dangerous (really? It’s not exactly a short stroll from Hotan to Konduz–it’s fair to wonder what they were doing there) and doesn’t want to return to China for fear of severe treatment.

Simon World looks at the problems of being an honest journalist in China, as does Peking Duck.

Indonesia: Islamic extremists are stepping up their persecution of Christians in West Java, reports the Jubilee Campaign. In one case, they showed up during a Sunday service at a church that had been operating since 1956 and ordered the service to end and the church to close permanently.

Japan: Mutant Frog has an interesting Taiwanese take on the upcoming election between Junichiro Koizumi, who has moved his country closer to the United States, and his opponent in the Democratic Party of Japan.

Nepal: In a deeply troubling development, Publius reports that the king’s repressive response to a brutal Maoist insurgency has driven the peaceful opposition into the arms of the Maoists.

North Korea:
Each party had its own way of trying to set a positive atmosphere going in to the recent six-nation talks. This week, we learned that North Korea’s was to restart its reactor at Yongbyon. Late word from Beijing was that the six nations were on the verge of agreeing to a joint statement of very general principles for a plan to “denuclearize” the North. Update: The Chosun Ilbo reports that the North is refusing to return to the talks until mid-September at the earliest, to protest the appointment of a U.S. Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea. Scroll down for details.

Does North Korea have a “right” to a “peaceful” nuclear program? The legal support for that claim is dubious, but that North Korean demand helped deadlock the last session of six-nation disarmament talks. South Korea’s Unification Minister sided with the North Koreans, but the Foreign Minister later backpedalled. The U.S. position, which had been clear in the wake of the talks, was thrown into confusion when the American negotiator said that the issue would not be a “show-stopper.” Oh? North Korea’s specific demand has been for peaceful uses of nuclear energy, which would mean reactors, fuel rods, and other things with which the North can’t be trusted.

Another potential show-stopper is North Korea’s refusal to admit that it has a covert uranium enrichment program. This week, Pakistan publicly admitted selling North Korea the centrifuges it uses for the program, in what would seem to be a calculated and negotiated leak to undermine North Korea’s denials.

What if the talks fail? In an interview exclusively for this blog, noted Korea expert Nicholas Eberstadt claims they already have, and discusses economic consequences that the U.S. could impose in response. Will those be enough to supply the missing deterrent from U.S. policy toward North Korea, in case North Korea won’t cease to threaten other nations or its own people? While the North Korean rulers probably don’t take military threats seriously, given the number of American soldiers in their artillery range, they may be less cavalier about outside appeals to the legimitacy of their rule.

While any North Korean resistance movement is probably years from challenging North Korea’s tyranny, some early steps toward encouraging dissenters have come from President Bush, Freedom House, Natan Sharanksy, and the U.S. Congress, via the ADVANCE Democracy Act and the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 (see sidebar at upper right). Last week, the White House finally nominated Jay Lefkowitz as U.S. Special Envoy on Human Rights in North Korea, a position created by the NKHRA last fall.

North Korea is the world’s most opaque society, and getting information about life on the inside is exceedingly difficult. Your new must-read source is the DailyNK, an online journal written by and for North Korean defectors, with help from sympathetic writers in South Korea and elsewhere (full disclosure: I’m one of them). Its recent scoops include an interview with a starving North Korean soldier, an expose of Kim Jong Il’s sex life, North Korea’s secret house churches, the rising use of cell phones despite a government ban, and a report on North Korea’s drug problem.

Another of our best sources of information about North Korea is Professor Andrei Lankov, who lived in North Korea as a Soviet diplomat for a number of years. He has several fine posts at NKZone, including this one, about North Korea’s strictly controlled markets. NKZone contributor Michael Rank looks at North Korea’s state religion.

The feds recently rolled up a Chinese gang that was marketing drugs and North Korean “supernotes,” and was planning to smuggle in heavy weapons, too. What makes the story a must-read is just how the feds executed the bust.

South Korea: A once-staunch American ally continues to drift toward irrational exuberance for the message of the North Korean regime. That exuberance has come at a high price for free expression in the South. A new survey of South Korean youth adds to a growing body of statistical evidence that anti-Americanism in South Korean is running near Middle Eastern levels (when will the U.S. government launch a Korean al-Hurrah?). In another setback for civil liberties in South Korea, the police appear to have been too busy checking themselves for rectal polyps to prevent pro-North Korean thugs from intimidating and threatening Radio FreeNK, an Internet broadcasting service by North Korean defectors for a secret audience in their homeland. The threats may now force Radio FreeNK to shut down, in what may well be an example of vicarious censorship by withdrawal of state protection.

At least the Korean left didn’t follow through on its vow to tear down the statue of Douglas MacArthur; OFK readers recently caused the Christian Science Monitor to correct a report that an organ of the South Korea government supported that position, too. The reporter’s humility and willingness to correct the record form a strong contrast to some other journalists’ recent behavior.

North Korea has admitted to kidnapping Japanese citizens, but what of the hundreds of South Koreans kidnapped by the North, or the thousands of POWs held by the North for sixty years after it agreed to return them in the 1953 armistice? Meekly, haltingly, the South Korean government is starting to inquire about their status. Despite years of South Korean appeasement, the Lost Nomad reports that the North has not been receptive.

If it bothers you that South Korea’s peace and prosperity are defended by American soldiers, but that many South Koreans bar members of the U.S. military from their businesses–and now, even from a public sporting event–you can show your support for our service members by supporting this blogger’s complaint the South Korean Human Rights Commission on their behalf. Given that the HRC considers restricting adolescents’ hairstyles to be a human rights violation, such an expansive interpretation of “human rights” would seem to include discrimination in public accomodations based on race and national origin.

Not all the news from South Korea is bad. The current anti-U.S. government is so weakened that it has improbably asked the opposition to form a coalition, something that would require amending the South Korean Constitution.

A nascent political movement in South Korea, known by its supporters as “The New Right,” breaks from conservative South Korea’s authoritarian past and progressive South Korea’s reflexive appeasement to challenge South Korea’s nearly universal silence about North Korea’s horrific human rights record. New Right legislators, led by former political prisoner and rising star Kim Moon-Soo, recently introduced a South Korean version of a North Korean Human Rights Act, although it’s sadly unlikely that the bill has enough support to pass this year.

Philippines: Asia Pundit has a roundup of news from the PI, including news links on the latest bombing in Basilan. When will President Arroyo finally stop occupying Iraq and Palestine?

Australia will start requiring Islamic schools to teach Australian values, according to Stefania.

South Asia

Pakistan: Gateway Pundit reports that Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf will address the American Jewish Committee in New York, and that the Pakistani rape victim whose case inspired an international outcry has helped two women win elected office in her village.

Bangladesh: Fair Vote Watch looks at the developing evidence that the recent wave of bombings was inspired and funded by international terrorists.

Middle East

Hate Watch: Winds of Change has the latest.

Media: You’ll never guess what channel they’re watching in Cairo and other places in the Middle East these days.

Egypt: For the first time anyone can remember, state-controlled TV in Egypt allowed an opposition candidate’s criticism of Hosni Mubarak on the air. The Big Pharoah wonders whether this for real, or just simulated balance. Freedom For Egyptians thinks the entire election is a fraud, but definitely give this blog a serious look before you conclude that it’s mere conspiratoral cynicism. FFE’s lockean demand for individual rights and courage in questioning the demonization of The Usual Suspects (principally, Israel) is welcome relief from the usual al-Jazeera perspective. HT: Gateway Pundit.

For a wider angle view, don’t miss this interesting Washington Post video report on Egypt’s pro-democracy movement. It’s not entirely good news; the Muslim Brotherhood is by far the strongest opposition movement.

Iran: Dr. Zin at Regime Change Iran looks at why Iran will never give up its determined pursuit of nuclear weapons, and how that pursuit might yet bring the United States and Old Europe together (if Gerhard Schroeder’s reelection campaign doesn’t tear them apart first). He also has a must-read update summarizing the major developments relating to the pro-democracy movement, human rights, and diplomacy. Stefania at Free Thoughts reports on more bad news for the Iranian people: violent clashes and public executions.

Iraq: As negotiators in Iraq haggled (but thus far, did not fight) over a draft constitution, bloggers speculated on what the parties sought, and whether the draft would be good for Iraq. Update: As of Monday a.m., it appears that the Sunnis did not agree with to the draft proposed by Shi’ite and Kurdish delegates.

The invaluable Iraq the Model discusses what the Sunnis and everyone else want. Publius doesn’t agree that the dispute is one of anti-federalist Sunnis versus pro-federalist Shi’ites, as most often portrayed, but a question of factions that control militias trying to weaken the central government to the point of impotence. Writing in the New York Times, David Brooks asks what is so wrong with that, and notes that Iraq’s religious leaders have rejected the theocratic Iranian model in favor of one-person, one-vote. Michael Barone reminds Americans that Iraqis might not necessarily make the same choices Americans would make, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not building as free a society as can be expected under the circumstances.

A parallel debate concerns whether the draft constitution’s provision that no law may controvert the principles of Islam (nor can any law controvert democracy, meaning both terms will be subject to vastly differing interpretations) means de facto theocracy in more conservative areas. Stephania at Free Thoughts is very worried about the imposition of shar’ia in Iraq. Publius cites the provisions in question and does a line-by-line comparison to similar provisions in the Afghan Constitution. Alenda Lux picks up on the same line of thought, and asks why the New York Times did not have the same reaction in the Afghan case, which resulted in neither a return to Taliban rule nor the overnight transformation of a feudal society into Wisteria Lane. Dean Esmay attacks comparisons of the draft constitution to Iran’s, arguing that Iran’s Constitution gives the mullahs far more inherent authority. Quid Nimis has one last suggestion to encourage a compromise: “Let’s lock the Iraqi parliament in a room with a bunch of Spanish mimes and tell them they can’t leave ’til we have a constitution. Cruel, I know, but these are tough times

Gateway Pundit reports that some die-hard neo-Ba’athists in Baquoba and a Sunni Arab district of Kirkuk held small pro-Saddam, anti-Constitution demonstrations. While the demonstrations received predictable press attention, turnout was limited to a few hundred people in each district, both of which were once key bases of Ba’athist support. It’s also likely that rejectionist sheiks encouraged the demonstrations to enhance their leverage at the bargaining table.

Over on Tech Central Station, Michael Fumento reports on the rebuilding of Fallujah–a place we never seem to hear about these days, probably because things aren’t going badly enough to be newsworthy. On the subject of rebuilding, Strategy Page has some advice on how not to train Iraqi security forces, and the Signaleer has a compendium of good news from Iraq. Arthur Chrenkoff, again telling us a story that traditional media aren’t, looks at evidence that voter turnout may be enthusiastic in areas that boycotted January’s election. The Idiom has some photos of Iraqi teens that suggest the makings of a modest social revolution.

Michael Yon is in Mosul, Iraq, writing the best blog that ever was. Yon, who embedded himself with Deuce Four, a Styker battalion in Mosul, Iraq, has no budget (except our tips) and no journalistic training, and yet also has better coverage of the battlefront than any newspaper, magazine, or network on earth. With his crisp, dry writing and his easy interaction with soldiers that clearly benefits from his own military background, Yon has made himself into the Ernie Pyle of our time, writing for an unserved market of Americans who want to know how their soldiers are fighting the terrorist enemy. He does so by bringing us back reports like this, photographs like this, and video like this that the rest of the media, for whatever reason, are not. This week, Yon has published his most breaktaking dispatch yet, describing the circumstances that caused him to pick up a weapon for the first time. You are left wondering where we find men like these, and whether the courage of the American people to get through another day of watching the evening news will equal their courage to get through IEDs, snipers, and mortar fire. I have little doubt that they would if they could read more reports like Yon’s, whose observations seem far more newsworthy than, say, Cindy Sheehan’s view that the terrorists are “freedom fighters.”

Another brave journalist who tried to give balanced reports of both good and bad news in Iraq was Steven Vincent, who was murdered by Shi’ite thugs near Basra recently. Middle East “expert” Juan Cole, attempting to rationalize the murder, took a beating from Vincent’s widow (who, of course, speaks with what Maureen Down calls “absolute moral authority”). Leaving Cole’s warped logic aside for a moment, some of his factual misunderstandings seem, well, understandable. An apology should have ended it, but Cole’s arrogant response to Mrs. Vincent (via Dean Esmay) was much worse than saying nothing at all.

Israel / Palestine: Alenda Lux tells us why the Gaza withdrawal won’t bring peace, in a word: Hamas. I like James Lileks’s take, but then again, I almost always do.

Saudi Arabia: Austin Bay links to a Strategy Page report (subscription required) on Al-Qaeda’s loss of its top leader and 15 others. The report also mentions the narrowly failed rocket attack on a U.S. Navy ship in the harbor at Aqaba, Jordan.

Syria: There’s a new dissident Syrian blog in on the net: Syria Comment PLUS. Gateway Pundit links to his report of unrest in the North.

Yemen: Jane at Armies of Liberation reports on some revolting conduct by the government of Yemen toward journalists who report allegations of government corruption. Death threats are just the beginning. In one case, they threatened a journalist’s kids. There are signs of a blogswarm. Separately, she writes about “kaafirophobia,” but don’t expect to see seminars about it on a campus near you.


Zimbabwe: The Zimbabwean Pundit has several interesting posts this week, all of them deeply depressing. Dictator-for-Life Robert Mugabe is using his dubious win in last March’s elections to rewrite the Constitution, giving himself even more powers than he held previously. The leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, has seemed at a loss for what to do next since March. After the threat of an MDC split, Tsvangirai has gone back to the people to set the party’s new direction. China is happy to assist with the looting, most recently of Zimbabwe’s mineral resources.

Ethiopia is still holding its sham election. Gateway Pundit has much more.

Latin America

Cuba: It’s been a bad week for Fidel Castro. Babalu Blog’s Val Prieto and his computer both survived Hurricane Katrina (which is great news for the rest of us). Val reports on a more profound and preventable tragedy:Thirty one souls who wanted only to breathe freedom. God damn you, fidel castro. Stefania at Free Thoughts has photos of a meeting of an independent and official campesinos’ union.

Venezuela: There is actual news not involving Pat Robertson’s mouth. Publius reports on more violent protests on the streets of Caracas, on its worsening economy and increasingly corrupt government, and how the opposition is building a case for a peaceful change of power. The Bad Hair Blog describes an uncomfortable meeting between Hugo Chavez and the Pope.

H.L. Mencken observed that for every problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong. Pat Robertson’s call for the assassination of Hugo Chavez appears to have won him few friends, although the critics can’t agree on why not (since all agree that none would miss him). Not even anti-Chavez Venezuelan bloggers are supportive. Eugene Volokh has strong reservations about the use of assassination as a tool of foreign policy, although that tool has some unlikely proponents. Most reactions were ambivalent, including Val Prieto, who helpfully offers to buy the ammo, but also sees the downside: “I’ve never been a fan nor a follower of Robertson. And he may very well be a beer or two short of a six pack, but for months now Hugo Chavez has been stating the US wants to kill him with much hyperbole and fanfare. So it seems to me Robertson was just calling his bluff. . . . The MSM, unfortunately, will harp on this, ad infintum, until we are all just sick of hearing about it. And Chavez and fidel, along with their MSM coconspirators, will use this to their advantage. The Manolo’s companero Val, he is wise, for Jesse Jackson is already getting himself some publicity by declaring that Chavez is as harmless as a fluffy little dove. Another effect of Robertson’s charge through the foreign policy china-shop is that his own relationships with nefarious regimes now become fair game.


Belarus remains a dreary laboratory for out-of-work Sovietologists. Alenda Lux reports that the Belarussian government recently arrested or detained several members of the opposition, two Georgian activists, and one U.S. diplomat. Poland is leading diplomatic efforts to pressure the Lukashenko regime and support the opposition, and former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa recently said he would support a democratic revolution in Belarus. Condoleeza Rice, speaking from Lithuania, denounced Belarus as Central Europe’s “last true dictatorship.” Germany’s Radio Deutsche Welle may soon begin broadcasting into Belarus. Dissent is possible in Belarus for those with courage, such as Students for Global Democracy. Here’s how you can support them. Their “unauthorized” portrait of Lukashenko alone is worth a click.

The Ukraine celebrates the 14th anniversary of its independence from Soviet rule–now as a free nation. A brave journalist who died for exposing dictator Leonid Kuchma’s corruption is honored.

What do Poland, the Ukraine, Georgia, and Lithuania have in common? Boxing Alcibiades reports that they’re all seeking a more “multipolar” Eastern Europe, one with less Russian influence and a more evangelical, Hegelian view of democracy than the agnosto-Episcopal values of the EU. That such an alliance became necessary says something about the gap between the EU’s high ambitions and its rudderless drift through reality. The backlash against Putin’s Russia isn’t confined to Eastern Europe, either (see Central Asia, below).

Russia‘s birthrate is plummeting. Chrenkoff has the stats.

With Germany in the middle of an election cycle, Gerhard Schroeder is looking for an issue to distract voters from the nation’s bleak economy. He appears to have settled on stirring fears of a U.S. invasion of Iran (this, the same Gerhard Schroeder who wants to sell arms to China). Scapegoating and playing on irrational fears are two tactics with long, sad histories in German politics.

Italy: Stefania at Free Thoughts wants to know whether the Italian Red Cross aided terrorists in Iraq, and informs us how the Vatican’s occupation of Iraq and Palestine has invited the natural results of Middle Eastern rage at these insults and grievances. Why do they hate us? It can’t help they we’re paying them to.

Central Asia

Gateway Pundit sees signs that Russia is losing its grip over its empire in the “near abroad.” Even as Russia’s population is falling rapidly, the populations of the ex-Soviet states in Central Asia are rising rapidly. Registan reports on a multinational pro-democracy organization, which includes members from Russia, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Kygyzstan.

Ingushetia‘s Prime Minister has narrowly escaped a bomb blast. Russian security forces blame terrorists, presumably from next-door Chechnya.

Afghanistan has seen a modest surge in fighting during the last two months. The “fighting season” has a long tradition, based on the practicality that small bands of fighters with mules can’t traverse high mountain passes until the snow melts. You would expect the fighting to be more severe with a referendum on the country’s constitution coming in less than three weeks, but the Taliban has just declared that it won’t attack the polls, in what is either an attempt at deception, an effort to preserve its dwindling street cred, or a sign of ambivalence about martyrdom (HT: Chrenkoff). Otherwise, what’s the news from Afghanistan? Nothing newsworthy, really.

Azerbaijan: Registan reports on an interesting approach to suppressing the opposition vote: simply rename two spoiler candidates after the opposition’s candidate. Update: There’s a more detailed post over at the New Eurasia blog. Thanks, Marianna.

Armenia: Oneworld Multimedia reports on the latest efforts to resolve the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. Iraq is not the only country writing a new constitution. U.S. diplomats are offering words of encouragement, but the opposition has yet to fully join in the electoral process.

Turkmenistan: “Turkmenbashi” Niyazov is a very odd breed of bird. He’s already forced everyone to buy and read his book. He’s banned gold teeth, opera, ballet, and car radios. He’s renamed a month of the year after himself. Now, he’s banned recorded music at public events. Insert your own Milli Vanilli joke here.

Tajikstan has put a rather Soviet end to one of the more imaginative ways of smuggling dope of which I’ve heard.

Uzbekistan: Coming Anarchy links to a piece in The Economist thrashing the EU for its “spineless” response to the massacre at Andijon, where Publius reports that the protests (if not all of the protestors themselves) are back. Arthur Chrenkoff wonders if the left will care about human rights in Uzbekistan now that the United States has announced that it’s removing its military bases.

Kazakhstan: After failing to acquire Unocal, China has purchased the Canadian firm PetroKazakhstan.

Kyrgyzstan‘s new leaders appear to be headed for a power struggle, Registan reports. On one side is President Kurman Bakiev, a former economist and opposition leader; on the other is Prime Minister Felix Kulov, a former leader of the post-Soviet successor to the KGB, later jailed by the deposed Akayev regime.

Turkey‘s Prime Minister’s recently commented on his country’s past treatment of its Kurdish minority. His words will seem like gross understatement to outsiders, but in the context of Turkey’s domestic politics, they are a dramatic departure from an official state of denial that the Kurds are a distinct people.

United States

The American home front is probably the only front on which the War on Terror–a fight for the survival of America’s freedom and prosperity–could be lost. President Bush tries to persuade the American people of what’s at stake, as some ask whether he’s making his case directly enough. Donald Sensing asks wants the President to talk to the American people about the consequences of defeat. Strategy Page has more.

A small college newspaper in Illinois thought it had the next Cindy Sheehan story, but it turns out to have a hoax, most likely politically motivated.

If our country is great ten years from now, it will be because of men like Casey Sheehan, not because of the words his mother spoke while blinded by paroxysms of grief and the spotlights of her exploiters. Take a moment to remember Casey Sheehan. Further from the cameras, a young Marine is welcomed home by a town that appreciates his sacrifice.

Friends of authoritarian regimes everywhere, take heart: Jane Fonda and George Galloway are together at last. Can Kim Jong Il be far behind? Ted Turner is working on it. Karl Rove has sent out his staff to book all of them on the Sunday shows and Hannity & Colmes.

There is apparently an alternate universe just miles from my home in which “support our troops” means taunting them in their hospital beds. The surrender activists at Code Pink became victims of their own “soldiers are victims” propaganda when they distastefully brought their message to the wounded soldiers at Walter Reed. Not only were the Freepers waiting for them, but so was a young soldier who lost both legs in the fighting four months ago. Do not hold your breath waiting for a New York Times columnist to declare that this soldier–who roundly denounced Code Pink–speaks with absolute moral authority.

United Nations

John Bolton is already throwing down drop cloths and knocking out walls. First in his sights is reforming the U.N.’s reform proposal. Most of the U.N.’s failings can be reduced to a single flaw: the absence of common values. John Tabin links to a piece in The New Republic that addresses that flaw in party by proposing a U.N. counterpart for the exclusive membership of democracies.

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Meet the “Libertarians” who would surrender our liberty & our security to Kim Jong-un’s censors

I doubt that America has fully come to terms with the damage done to its freedom of expression by the Sony cyberterrorist attack of 2014, or by the increasing willingness of Muslim supremacists to extinguish our civil liberties through violence. It is an easy thing to be a civil libertarian when the subject is, say, the limits of a proposed law allowing the FBI or NSA to eavesdrop on suspected terrorists’ communications or monitor their social media posts. Even if we acknowledge the legitimacy of these debates, it is a modern marvel of hypocrisy to watch ardent, self-described civil libertarians quietly slink away from the defense of our civil liberties from greater and less restrained threats, particularly when doing so requires actual courage, whether physical, political, or professional.

Some would cede to the censorship of “Islamophobia” or “hate speech” or blame the targets and victims of terrorism for inciting attacks against themselves. Others still deny North Korea’s responsibility for cyberattacks that the FBI and the NSA watched unfoldNext time you meet one, ask a Sony conspiracy theorist (among whom we may count David Duke) what incentive President Obama had to blame North Korea for an attack on the United States. So that he would have an excuse to do nothing about it, and to face criticism from both political parties for the inadequacy of his response? To corner the market in North Korea’s vast riches of coal, meth, and refugees? In which case, why not secure an endless supply of two of those things by invading Wyoming?

To see a free society yield to its most cowardly impulses is to realize that our liberty will never be taken from us without the help of collaborators among us. Sadly, North Korea’s injury to our freedom to express ourselves in our own country has healed slowly. It may last as long as North Korea does.

The Museum of Modern Art has acknowledged it wrongly canceled the New York debut of “Under the Sun,” a documentary about North Korea that has been criticized by that country and Russia.

A slyly subversive look at the reclusive state by the Russian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky, the film had been scheduled to be shown at the museum’s 2016 Doc Fortnight festival on Feb. 19-29. But an email exchange provided by the film’s German producer to The New York Times shows that a festival organizer, Sally Berger, an assistant curator at MoMA, expressed concern in late January about screening the film after reading an article suggesting that any organization that did so risked retribution from North Korea.

In the emails, Ms. Berger referred to a major hacking attack on Sony Pictures that the United States has described as retaliation by North Korea for a 2014 film satire of the country, “The Interview.”

She followed up a few days later to tell the documentary’s distributor that it would not be included in the festival. “It just simply came in too late to review all the possible ramifications of showing it here at MoMA,” she wrote.

Asked about the decision to withdraw the film, Rajendra Roy, the chief curator of MoMA’s film department, said Thursday in a written statement: “‘Under the Sun’ is a remarkable documentary that was wrongly disinvited.” He added that the decision was “made by the festival’s curator without my knowledge or input.”

The museum said on Friday that Ms. Berger was no longer working there. Margaret Doyle, a spokeswoman for the museum, declined to elaborate, and Ms. Berger, reached by telephone, said she would not comment. [Robert Boynton, New York Times]

Kudos to the MoMA for firing this quisling, although it gives me little comfort to wonder how many other galleries, publishers, and film studios have quietly and vicariously surrendered our freedom. If our choices are to live in a society where North Korea controls what we are allowed to see and read, or to live in a world without North Korea, please record my vote for the latter option. North Korea acknowledges no such concept as freedom of political expression. It does not respect our borders as inviolable. Its censorship knows no limits or boundaries, and to surrender to it is to forfeit our freedom. Judging by the frequency of North Korea’s cyberattacks since then, nothing President Obama has done since 2014 has persuaded Kim Jong-un otherwise.

Which brings us to some of America’s most ostentatious and uncompromising civil libertarians, who are also among the first to slink away from the greatest threats to our security, our liberty, and our rights to speak, live, and love as we choose. Take the case of some fellow called Jacob Hornberger, a lawyer, Fox News contributor, and collaborator of Ron Paul’s racist muse Lew Rockwell:

There are all sorts of suggestions as to how to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, but all of them involve one form of interventionism or another. A popular idea of late is for the U.S. government to pressure China to induce North Korea to comply with U.S. wishes. How can the U.S. pressure China? Well, maybe by threatening to impose sanctions on China or maybe by threatening a trade war.

I’ve got a different idea: How about just leaving North Korea alone for the first time in more than 50 years? How about immediately lifting all sanctions against the North Korean people and immediately bringing home all U.S. troops stationed in Korea?

No negotiations.  Just unilateral withdrawal. Just unilaterally lifting all sanctions? How about establishing normal diplomatic relations with North Korea and leaving Americans and the rest of the world to trade with and visit that country?

In other words, how about treating North Korea in much the same way that the U.S. government is now treating the communist regime of Vietnam? . [Jacob G. Hornberger]

Hornberger then proceeds to explain that the tongue bath he would thus give Kim Jong is not a literal one:

No, I’m not suggesting that U.S. officials have to kiss, hug, and make nice with the North Korean communist officials, as they are currently doing with Vietnamese communist officials. And no, I’m not suggesting that the Pentagon plead with the North Korean communist regime to establish U.S. military bases there, as Pentagon officials are doing with the Vietnamese communist regime.

I’m just suggesting that the U.S. government leave North Korea alone. No more U.S. troops in South Korea. No more sanctions. No more B-52 flyovers. No more joint military exercise with South Korea. No more U.S. warships in the area. No more insults. No more provocations. Just come home and leave them alone. [Jacob G. Hornberger]

How Hornberger proposes to get North Korea to leave us alone, he does not specify. Specifically, I want to call your attention to where Hornberger calls for “[n]o more insults.” He manages to get through his entire argument without using the words “cyber” or “Sony,” neatly avoiding denialism and conspiracy theories by conceding that even if one accepts North Korea’s responsibility for the attacks, he’d still shake the hand at the end of the long arm of Kim Jong-un’s censors. I wonder what “insults” he might possibly mean if he doesn’t mean films and books that offend His Porcine Majesty. Would he censor the statements of our leaders and allies that Kim Jong-un should feed North Korea’s children? Votes in the U.N. General Assembly condemning his crimes against humanity, or investigations of those crimes by U.N. field offices? Academic conferences about government policy toward North Korea? Or what if, as a private citizen, I were to simply ask you to picture Kim Jong-un trying to put his own socks on? 

Which of these things does Hornberger suppose to be inviolable rights of citizens in free societies, and why does he suppose that Kim Jong-un would recognize the same fine distinctions? Why does Hornberger suppose that His Corpulency would be more respectful of our rights and boundaries after we cede him an effective nuclear arsenal?

Thankfully, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson does not appear to share Hornberger’s view of North Korea policy, although I can’t say much for his coherence on the subject, either. Still, it’s concerning that most of the diverse viewpoints that fit inside the “Libertarian” circus tent advocate some form of surrender to Kim Jong-un. Take, for example, noted sanctions not-at-all-expert Doug Bandow, who is ready to pronounce sanctions a failure in the very same month that U.N. member states and banks around world have finally begun to implement them in earnest — something that never happened in the case of Cuba. 

Washington could intervene by maximizing unilateral sanctions. However, such penalties have yet to force political change in any nation. For a half century, Cuba resisted U.S. pressure, even after the U.S. imposed secondary controls. Sudan survived decades of financial isolation. North Korea almost certainly would do the same, especially if the China continued to support its frenemy. [Doug Bandow, The National Interest]

Why, it’s almost as if Bandow enters the discussion with a preconceived conclusion before the evidence comes in! So how, then, does Bandow propose to secure our vital domestic and international interests, such as our freedom of expression and the global nuclear nonproliferation framework? Spoiler: he doesn’t:

One is to initiate both bilateral and multilateral talks, and determine if there is any kind of deal to strike. Forget convincing North Korea to give up its existing arsenal. Instead, consider limits on future production, proliferation activities and conventional threats. At the same time the U.S. and its allies should emphasize steps which would reduce any perceived threat to North Korea. [Bandow]

Bandow never explains how he’d defend our civil liberties from North Korean censorship from afar, although he has previously written that we should do so by — wait for it — canceling annual military exercises in South Korea, and withdrawing from Korea. That would create a sudden power vacuum in a region that has long been stabilized by our alliances and which has, consequently, become an engine of economic growth that employs millions of Americans.

Not that I would deny that the force structure of U.S. Forces Korea should change, by withdrawing more ground forces while raising our stand-off air and naval power in the region, our capacity to supply our allies logistically, and by building a Pacific analog of NATO. Not that it would be a bad thing for South Korea and Japan to spend a greater share of their GDPs on their own defense. Not that it’s a bad thing for South Korea, in particular, so see that America feels taken for granted, or that the anti-American rhetoric of some of its own demagogues has costs. That is a far different thing from abandoning allies that have recently started acting like allies again.

Look — I can see why big-“L” Libertarians and Paulies get the idea that Americans want isolationist foreign policies in the post-Iraq era. Ask Americans a sufficiently simplistic, reductive, and loaded question, and most of them will agree that “we should mind our own business.” From this, some academics and politicians conclude that isolationism is politically profitable, but such abstract agreements almost never survive contact with specific crises.

Jacksonians who want us to mind our own business in the abstract are the first ones to demand that we bomb something when they feel provoked by something concrete. Liberals who take quasi-pacifist positions in the abstract will (if only briefly) support interventions in response to specific humanitarian crises, such as in Bosnia, Libya, Rwanda, or even Mount Sinjar in Iraq. And in the case of North Korea, while almost no one wants war, the strongly negative sentiment Americans harbor toward its government suggests that they don’t favor the Hornberger or Bandow “solutions,” which would effectively recognize it as a nuclear power. 

Americans don’t like paying for alliances, but they like the alliances themselves, and they’re capable of calculating the consequences of letting totalitarianism go unchecked. We’ve just finished eight years of the most non-interventionist foreign policy the American electorate would tolerate. It currently burdens President Obama with an approval rating of minus eight points, although it has usually been between minus ten and minus twenty points. If Obama’s foreign policy has done us a service, however inadvertently, it has been to temporarily dispel the idea that you can solve great and complex international problems by ignoring them (much less by just letting in everyone who arrives at your doorstep, including the terrorists among them). Syria is gone. Maybe Iraq and Jordan can be saved, and maybe they can’t. Now, the question is whether Europe will survive. Who thinks that a similar crisis couldn’t happen in Japan and South Korea five or ten years from now if America withdraws from Asia and leaves Kim Jong-un with an effective nuclear arsenal? Or that the consequent crisis wouldn’t come to our shores, too?

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Sony Pictures should go after North Korean hackers’ Chinese enablers

Since the weekend, several of you have e-mailed me about “suspicions” — and really, I don’t think they went further than that — that North Korea may have hacked Sony Pictures and leaked unreleased movies to file sharers to punish it for “The Interview.” Those rumors were covered by many outlets, but frankly, the open-source evidence for North Korea’s complicity was little more than speculation, at least until I read this today:

Hackers who knocked Sony Pictures Entertainment’s computer systems offline last week used tools very similar to those used last year to attack South Korean television stations and ATMs, people briefed on the investigation said.

The similarity would reinforce a hunch among some investigators, which include Sony, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a team from Silicon Valley security company FireEye Inc., that North Korea played a role in the breach at the film and television studio, one of the largest in the U.S. South Korea publicly blamed the 2013 attacks on North Korea. [….]

Sony Pictures is set to release this month “The Interview,” a comedy in which U.S. spies enlist a television host played by James Franco and his producer, played by Seth Rogen, to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. In June, a spokesman for the Pyongyang government said distribution of the movie would be “the most undisguised terrorism and a war action” and threatened a “strong and merciless countermeasure” if the U.S. government “patronizes the film.” [Wall Street Journal]

It’s hardly proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but it’s something. Interestingly, “The Interview” wasn’t one of the Sony films the hackers leaked — not yet, anyway. For now, Sony Pictures continues to deny that it has direct knowledge of North Korea’s involvement. As I noted here, Sony was previously reported to have made changes to the script to appease the North Koreans. So much for appeasing North Korea, although South Korea seems congenitally incapable of learning that:

“The Interview,” a North Korea-themed satire starring actors Seth Rogen and James Franco, won’t be released in South Korea, a Seoul-based official for Sony Pictures Entertainment said. [….]

South Korean media reports cite a Sony Pictures Korea official as saying the distributor never had plans to release the film due to concerns about inter-Korean relations. A Sony Pictures official declined to comment on the reasons behind the decision not to show the film in South Korea. [WSJ Korea Real Time, Jeyup S. Kwaak]

Cowards. Kwaak’s post notes that South Korean state censors prevented “Team America” from being screened in South Korea, but doesn’t link the suppression of “The Interview” to government censorship. One possibility is that the ROK government asked Sony very politely. Another is that Sony anticipated that the usual gang of pro-North Korean thugs and thought police would try to disrupt screenings.

And what recourse does Sony have against the hackers, assuming it can prove that North Korea was responsible? Hacking is a federal felony, and an attack on a U.S.-based computer system would arguably give the feds subject-matter jurisdiction. If the Justice Department prosecutes, it probably wouldn’t find any live bodies to stick in the dock, but because hacking is a predicate offense for money laundering, DOJ would still be able to forfeit assets of anyone the court convicted. Not that that would do Sony much good.

Sony might be able to sue North Korea by taking advantage of several exceptions to North Korea’s sovereign immunity under 28 U.S.C. 1605(a). Collecting the judgements, of course, would be another matter entirely. Just ask any of the lawyers who won these judgments.

More interesting, however, are suspicions that the hackers may have been operating out of China, which isn’t a novel theory. That almost certainly couldn’t happen without the knowledge of the Chinese government and other Chinese entities, perhaps including entities with assets that could be reached by U.S. courts.

This suggests that a more fruitful legal strategy may be for the feds to prosecute, and for parties like Sony to sue, the Chinese enablers. There are even indications that our government might have the political will do to that. The new Congress could also require the Director of National Intelligence to report on China’s sponsorship of North Korean hacking. Unclassified portions of that report might provide useful evidence for Sony’s case.

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Update: One reason Sony Pictures might not go after the hackers’ Chinese enablers is that Hollywood has been too preoccupied welcoming its new Chinese overlords and sucking up to its new censors. I thought it was bad enough when Sony Pictures bent over for Japan’s censorship; wait till you see what stultifying delights the Chinese have in store for us.

And the unlikely hero of this alarming and underreported controversy? Oliver Stone, himself a suspected disseminator of KGB propaganda, naturally. So I guess the wounds from the Stalin-Mao rift are still raw in some quarters. Hat tip to a reader.

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Update 2: According to this report by U.S. Army Major Steve Sin, a defector reported that as of 2004, members of a North Korean military hacker unit called Unit 121 conducted “some of its operations from a North Korean government-operated hotel called Chilbosan in Shenyang, China.” Business Insider sent a reporter there (Update: or, horked the pictures online; see comments) to see what the hotel looks like today.

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In South Korea, a political realignment

When President Park speaks of reunification as a “jackpot,” she is seizing an issue that the left had “owned” for at least a dozen years. Ten years ago, the left could draw crowds of candle-carrying thirty-somethings to swoon about reunification, at least in the abstract. The dream was qualified, complicated, and hopelessly unrealistic, but it intoxicated them. The DMZ would have become a “peace park,”* the disputed waters of the Yellow Sea would have become a “peace zone,” and both systems would have evolved toward some sort of neutral confederation. (What a long, strange trip!) In concrete terms, however, the Roh Administration wasn’t so eager for reunification. It certainly didn’t want North Korean people, thousands of whom had a far better grasp on the practical distinctions between the two systems. It didn’t even seem to want North Korea itself, except as a tourist or investment venue, and more generally as a money pit. Above all, it avoided challenging the North’s political system. And as I noted here, it’s all so 2003 now.

You could say that the confederation was already taking shape in some disturbing ways. Maybe the most disturbing was the Roh administration’s willingness to suppress speech that Pyongyang objected to. It muzzled the press and tried to censor reporting critical of North Korea. Activists who protested visiting North Korean officials were followed by police, stopped and frisked, confined to their homes, or had pamphlets seized from them. The political output of the subsidized South Korean entertainment industry was almost monolithically anti-American and sympathetic to North Korea. Government officials reportedly demanded changes to the script of a play, written and produced by a North Korean refugee, and set in a North Korean concentration camp. It arrested activists who attempted to launch leaflet balloons into North Korea. A 2005 survey found that “[n]ineteen percent of [North Korean] escapees who had criticized the South Korean government, the North Korean regime, or Kim Jong Il … received a warning or threat by administration officials.”

Some of the censorship was vicarious or passive. The left-wing government gave financial subsidies to pro-North Korean unions and “civic groups” that engaged in violent protests against the U.S. military presence. In 2005, shortly after Radio Free North Korea began broadcasting, repeated anonymous threats forced its landlord to evict it from its leased space. (With the election of Lee Myung Bak, the end of the subsidies, and a sexual assault scandal, the KCTU’s street power waned.) As late as 2011, leftist union goons disrupted a North Korean human rights film festival in Seoul. There must be many cases of speech that was chilled by these tactics that we’ll never know about. Certainly it had an impact in shaping South Korean perceptions about North Koreans and reunification.

The consequence of this is that South Koreans, despite their physical and cultural proximity to North Korea, are almost a decade behind the rest of the world in their understanding of how most North Koreans really live. It has been a slow awakening, but since 2008, there has been a modest shift in how South Korean society views North Koreans. Cha In-Pyo was already a big star in South Korea that year, when he starred in “Crossing,” a story about a North Korean refugee and his son. The Chosun Ilbo produced “On the Border,” a brave and ground-breaking series of documentaries about North Korean refugees and smugglers, and how they were changing their homeland. The 2012 film “48Mportrayed the wretchedness of life inside North Korea and the brutality of its regime’s measures to prevent escape. Today, “On My Way to Meet You” is a popular variety show featuring fetching North Korean women who sometimes describe their lives in the North or comment on newsworthy events there. This is a change for the better, but with the latter exception, none of these works were popular or had a great cultural impact. More South Koreans still see North Koreans as a ravenous horde of ignorant bumpkins than as human beings and fellow Koreans.

A few die-hards still hold out on ideological islands of their own creation. One of these, Daegu University law professor Yoon Jae-man, recently tweeted, “I hate these North Korea defectors more than pro-Japanese groups. North Korean defectors, who once conspired to destroy liberal democracy, should be put to death just like France killed people who engaged with the Nazis.” Last year, former North Korean propaganda star Lim Soo-Kyung, now a Democratic Party lawmaker, unloaded a drunken tirade on a North Korean refugee in Seoul, saying that “[d]efectors who have no roots should just shut their mouths and live quietly,” and “should not talk back to a Republic of Korea National Assembly lawmaker.” Referring to a fellow lawmaker and human rights activist, Lim said, “You work with that Ha Tae Kyung right, on that North Korean human rights stuff? Ha Tae Kyung that turncoat I’m going to kill him with my own bare hands.”  Lim isn’t part of any fringe party. She represents the “mainstream” Democratic Party (DP), which is now trying to present a more moderate image.

And lately, it seems that another North Korean spy is unmasked in the South every month.

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It was inevitable that shifts in the information landscape and public opinion would eventually force political changes, even in South Korea’s hyper-polarized and doctrinaire environment. The DP, the successor to Roh’s left-wing Uri Party, is now shifting toward the center to avoid being tagged as soft on North Korea. A few years ago, there would have been no need to worry about that.

The immediate catalyst for the shift was the announcement by politician Ahn Cheol-Soo that he’s forming a third party to compete in elections across South Korea. This has sown panic on the left. The Hankyoreh, its flagship newspaper, recently called the DP “pathetic,” and the DP leadership admits that it is “compet[ing] with Ahn in political innovation” as Ahn targets the DP’s base in Cheolla, emphasizing local autonomy rather than old-fashioned leftist ideology. Ahn flirted with running for mayor of Seoul — a position currently held by the DP — but later denied any interest in the job. More worrisome for the DP are recent polls suggesting that it is “surrendering second place to” Ahn’s party. If that is true, it is almost certainly a short-lived novelty reaction to a new brand. The real danger for the DP is that Ahn’s party will act as a spoiler against its candidates. That is forcing the DP, whose ranks still contain some extreme pro-North Korean ideologues, to back away from extreme views that, not so long ago, were dominant within the ranks of the old Uri Party.

Within weeks of Ahn’s announcement, the DP’s leader, Kim Han-Gill, promised to help create a North Korea policy based on “national unity.” A majority of DP lawmakers polled by the Joongang Ilbo agreed that “its North Korea policy should be upgraded to reflect the times and the changes in the public’s perspective.” Next, Kim did a photo op at a monument to service members killed by the North Koreans on Yeonpyeong. (By contrast, former President Roh Moo Hyun had downplayed remembrances of the six crewmen of the Chamsuri 457, who were killed in a 2002 naval battle with North Korea, to avoid offending North Korea’s sensibilities. This so angered the widow of one officer that she emigrated to the United States.)

Kim even committed his party to supporting a North Korea human rights law. The reversal seemed to end nine years of DP obstructionism, based on a fear of offending North Korea, of a bill that “seeks to improve human rights, political rights and the right to freedom” of North Koreans, and “includes the establishment of a special envoy (for North Korean human rights), a documents archive and a North Korean Human Rights Foundation.” The bill would also provide financial support to private human rights advocacy groups and groups helping North Korean defectors.

A few days later, however, the DP’s floor leader said that his party wasn’t really committing to any of that, it was committing to “supporting South-North cooperation and providing humanitarian aid” — in other words, cash for Kim Jong Un. Evidently, the DP’s hard-left wing had pushed back. GNP floor leader Hwang Woo-Yea, who had exerted himself heroically for this bill for years, responded that a human rights bill ought to be about promoting and improving human rights:

“A bill on North Korean human rights should literally be a bill for the improvement of North Korea’s human rights situation,” Hwang said. “The specific ways of supporting (North Korea) are contained in a separate law on supporting North Korea, so they should be handled by that law.” [Yonhap]

If the DP’s concession does nothing else, it will turn the national debate toward the question of why a human rights bill is necessary at all, and it shows which side of the debate has momentum. The ruling Grand National Party hopes to put the bill to a vote this month, but the two parties show no signs of agreeing on substance. If there is a vote, it will be divided, and it will give us a clearer idea of how much the DP’s rank-and-file has evolved.

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Part of the DP’s problem is that President Park projects competence. The economy is doing well, and the conservative press can make a credible case that Park has been effective in promoting Korea’s interests abroad, even if only in the largely symbolic contest against Japan. Park also showed toughness and effectiveness in negotiating with the North Koreans to reopen Kaesong (thus, successfully achieving a second dubious objective).

Another part of the left’s problem is that is has been damaged by the excesses of its extreme element. Lee Seok-Ki, a lawmaker for the far-left Unified Progressive Party, was recently stripped of his parliamentary immunity and arrested for leading a Fifth Column group called the “Revolutionary Organization” that plotted violent attacks against South Korean infrastructure, in support of a North Korean invasion — over a tapped phone line, with 130 people (including kids and drunks) in attendance.

In one of the meetings, which lasted till 2 a.m. on May 13 at a religious retreat in the South Korean capital, Seoul, Mr. Lee, 51, said war could be imminent on the divided Korean Peninsula and his followers should prepare themselves for a “revolution” against “the world’s most powerful American imperialists” and achieve “a new reunified fatherland,” according to the National Intelligence Service’s charges against him. At one point, he said the manual for making the pressure cooker bomb used in the Boston Marathon attack was available on the Internet. [….]

Another follower, Lee Sang-ho, suggested attacking South Korea’s communications, oil, train and other crucial facilities in case of war, the charges said. But Mr. Hong also called the idea of buying sniper rifles and using hacking skills to attack military radar facilities “outlandish.” [N.Y. Times]

Here is what one of Lee’s co-conspirators said in a recorded conversation that the prosecutors recently played in court:

“We have our support groups in the country. In an emergency, we must organize them in a timely manner … If we mobilize them to spark a protest just like the massive protests against mad cow disease [in 2008], it will damage the Park Geun-hye government,” he said. “Some important facilities are installed in U.S. garrisons. Not just army bases but radar installations or electric facilities. We need to amass [information about] them.” [Joongang Ilbo]

Prosecutors are now seeking a 20-year prison term for Lee. We haven’t heard the court’s verdict, but some “progressives” insist that Lee’s trial is a witch hunt to restore a right-wing dictatorship. I can believe a number of arguments that Park has an authoritarian streak, but not this one. The UPP had initially offered a dizzying range of explanations, including, “He was just joking.” Eventually, Lee settled on the minimally plausible story that he was really preparing to defend South Korea against an attack by the United States.

The UPP and the DP are two different parties, of course, but it isn’t completely unfair of voters to associate Lee’s ideology with a DP that still includes the likes of Lim Soo-Kyung. The DP’s Chairman, Kim Han-Gill, supported Lee’s arrest on charges of plotting a violent insurrection, but roughly two dozen of its members opposed it.

If the left wanted to make a more convincing argument that Park Geun-Hye is behaving like an authoritarian, it could criticize her for dissolving political parties, decertifying labor unions, or prosecuting people for praising North Korea. Park might be able to justify these actions if those groups — as opposed to certain individuals or factions within them — had conspired to commit violent acts or act as covert agents of a hostile foreign government, but that is not true of any of the cases I linked above. (Lee Seok-Ki’s pro-North Korean faction does not represent the entire UPP. One faction of the UPP holds views similar to European democratic socialists. To dissolve an entire political party because of the actions of some of its members is overbroad and authoritarian.) I was horrified when the Army shot a man for trying to defect to North Korea last September, although I appear to be the only one who felt this way.

You don’t have to sympathize with the targets of these actions to see that the government’s tactics will backfire, eventually. For now, South Korean voters care more about security and economics, and they’re weary of the left’s extreme ideology. It’s also clear that the left has lost its talent for dissent. Yes, it has offered some legitimate criticism of Park’s troubling attacks on freedom of speech and association, but it also squandered its credibility defending Lee Seok-Ki.

The point of which is, isn’t it sad that Korean governments find it so much easier to censor opposing views than to argue the issues on their merits?

(* President Park revived that proposal recently. I’m all for it, by the way. I don’t think Park Geun-Hye is interested in lowering South Korea’s defenses; I think she’s trying to triangulate for the voters, and a “peace park” would effectively become another border North Korea couldn’t seal, and a direct route for north-to-south defections. That’s why North Korea would never agree to this.)

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Will a North Korean Attack Win the Yellow Sea for China?

Is the Yellow Sea a Chinese lake? Under ordinary circumstances, I’d understand China’s complaints about a U.S. naval exercise in an inland sea near its shores. It’s not as if I’d want Chinese ships in the Gulf of Mexico, either, but these are not ordinary circumstances. This time, North Korea has sunk a South Korean warship, and China has both shielded North Korea from any consequences for that attack and continued to provide necessary financial support to the regime that carried it out. Argue among yourselves whether this makes China an accessory after the fact, but it certainly destroys the myth of China as a mature, responsible power promoting peace and stability. That’s why the U.S. Navy is now forced to deter without any help from China.

It now appears that China’s obnoxious protestations will get at least part of a joint U.S.-South Korean naval exercise moved to North Korea’s East Coast. Given China’s indefensible behavior, that would be a very bad concession for President Obama to make. Despite the U.S. Navy’s insistence, it’s clear that there’s a message for China in these exercises, too, as there should be. But instead of China suffering some vicarious liability for North Korea’s attack, it could stand to benefit from what amounts to thuggery by proxy. If the Navy moves its exercise out of the Yellow Sea, China will have achieved a great leap forward for its regional hegemony. And while a naval exercise in the Yellow Sea is useful for showing America’s commitment to its allies in the region, it still falls far short of the sort of economic and security consequences needed to deter North Korea and China from letting something like the Cheonan Incident happen again.

One deferential commenter asks, “Will the anti-submarine warfare exercises signal an expansion of the coverage area of the U.S.-(South Korea) alliance?” I hope the answer to that is “yes.” Whereas I’ve long believed that U.S. ground forces should be withdrawn from Korea, I believe having a U.S. air component in Korea is good for both countries’ security, and that if any part of the alliance has the potential to grow, it’s the naval component. Having U.S. infantry in South Korea is an anachronism and an inviting target, but creating a multinational naval alliance between the United States and the Pacific democracies will better protect those democracies against Chinese intimidation and proxy attacks.

Rather than showing contrition and doing its share to restore regional stability by dialing back its support for Kim Jong Il, China’s behavior is bombastic (but very helpful to my side of the argument about China’s intentions). I certainly do not suggest that Peter Lee speaks for Beijing, but I do suppose his writing probably reflects the way Beijing hopes to use this incident to advance its hegemonic ambitions and divert its suppressed domestic rage toward foreign demons.

Lee betrays his misunderstanding of South Korea by suggesting that there is “a wave of excitement” there over the possibility of immediate reunification (if only!). He then frets, needlessly, that this could frustrate China’s ability to “win recognition of its national interest in the future of the peninsula, especially since its national interest seems best served by the continued existence of an impoverished, anti-American buffer state.” I hope Koreans are listening carefully. This is the sort of honesty about China’s motives you’ll seldom hear from Washington’s Foreign Policy Industry, or Seoul’s. But in the next breath, Lee nonetheless protests that China’s influence over its North Korean dependent is overstated. China is always trying to play this both ways — claiming hegemony over North Korea while insisting that it has no influence over events there. But with the decline in inter-Korean trade, China is by far North Korea’s largest source of cash, fuel, food, and trade.

Lee acknowledges the wave of anger by the Chinese people against the corruption and lack of accountability of their own government (and also, bad restaurant service). Release the mobs!

Indeed, nationalism and a thirst for vigilante justice targeting anyone from rude waitresses to corrupt officials to countries deemed insufficiently friendly and respectful have emerged as a remarkable source of potential energy, particularly on the Internet. It is easy to imagine China permitting the expression and, through the media, “amplification” of anti-foreign feeling to threaten the economic interests of countries that challenge China’s interests and self-esteem.

The strategy would have the added benefit of using vociferous and intolerant nationalism to crowd out domestic criticism of Communist Party rule and its various shortcomings, which threaten to become a dominant theme on China’s lively, massive, and indignant domestic Internet despite extensive monitoring and censorship operations and the Herculean efforts of paid sock puppets to dilute and redirect unsuitable threads.

Lee then cites the example of a K-pop concert gone bad to support dark threats that Beijing will fall back on the tired tactic of redirecting this anger toward xenophobic nationalism directed against the United States and South Korea, and that Chinese, marching as the state leads them, will riot against the foreign devils (whether digitally or physically isn’t specified). But of course, Beijing has been doing this for years, and while that hasn’t made the people of China any more content, it’s not a tactic whose historical precedents augur favorably for China or anyone else.

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The Freedom of the State’s Press to Deceive the People Shall Be Abridged

[Updated below] In the wake of a court’s decision ordering a retraction of a distorted, sloppy, and  false  MBC report that triggered massive anti-government protests, Lee Myung Bak is moving to clean house.   A principled approach would be to ask why Korea’s government (or for that matter, ours) is in the business of broadcasting the news anyway and just saw off this vestigial limb.  Instead, Lee is being Lee and conducting a purge.

The shakeup culminated on Friday at national broadcaster KBS — the equivalent of Britain’s BBC or Canada’s CBC — when its board of directors voted to dismiss the company’s chief, Jung Yun-joo. The vote, called for by the government’s audit agency that accused him of “poor management” was a distressing, tearful scene, with hundreds of KBS reporters and producers jostling with police officers as they tried to enter the meeting hall to physically stop the balloting. Some were dragged by police along the ground. Some lost consciousness. [Yonhap]

KBS, though not the propagator of the original mad cow falsehoods, brayed along with the stampede by drawing inflammatory  comparisons between it  and the democracy movement of the 1980’s.  Let the head-shaving, public scuffling, and wails of “censorship” begin, and let the wailing come from the leftist “reformers” who put Roh Moo Hyun into office just a few years ago:

The Journalists’ Association of Korea condemned the voting as “a coup d’etat.”

The Lee government is not the only one to have planted its cronies in government-funded major broadcasters. New administrations in Korea have traditionally tried to get the media on their side before carrying out new policies. Watchers lament, however, that Lee, who gained power on promises to make a fresh break from former President Roh Moo-hyun, is repeating the same old tactics and his are a far graver threat to media independence.

“I feel helpless. It makes me think whatever we say — what use it can be?” Won Yong-jin, a mass communications professor at Sogang University and leading critic of the Korean media, asked. “With the parliament controlled by the ruling party, it is the role of the media to take a critical stance and keep government power in check to serve the interest of the people, their readers and their audience. It is a very unfortunate thing for all of us that the government tries to bring the media on its side,” he said.

He compared the current government’s media shakeup to that in 2003, when Roh appointed his presidential campaign advisor, Seo Dong-ku, as the KBS president. In the face of fierce criticism from conservative media and the then opposition Grand National Party, which called for a nonpolitical, neutral figure, Seo was forced to resign in 11 days. Roh reconciled with critics by naming Jung, the current KBS chief and a career journalist with the liberal daily Hankyoreh.

Yes, we all know what guardians of a free press Roh and his people were … not.  When they weren’t using their powers to tax and other powers of the state to  suppress opposition media, they were taking a laissez-faire attitude toward  left-wing thugs who made threats against Radio Free North Korea, blocked the U.S. Ambassador from attending a media interview,  carried out  multiple violent assaults on American service members, attacked non-violent human rights activists, burned down a pro-opposition paper’s printing house, and attacked  its retired chairman.  Roh’s government denied trying to shut down “Yoduk Story,” a play  depicting North  Korea’s concentration camps,  before opening night, but no arrests were ever made of those who allegedly forced investors to back out of the production.  Meanwhile, producers of anti-American films were subsidized and  protected from foreign competition.  Was this a climate in which the press, to the extent it was inclined,  felt free to level accurate criticism against, say, the ongoing mass murder of North KoreansJust ask them

This is not to suggest that censorship justifies censorship; I make this point for the exclusive purpose of leveling a charge of hypocrisy.  Nothing Lee has done so far  so closely meets the definition of  censorship as Roh’s  treatment of  unfriendly media.  It did so both directly and vicariously, through so many examples of selective non-enforcement of the law that simple police incompetence just doesn’t explain it.  That  hypocrisy won’t keep the Korean left from invoking free-press martyrdom, but I hope I’ve helped you to put all of this into perspective.

At the same time, I don’t see demanding  accountability for incompetent, manipulative, and malicious journalistic malpractice as censorship.   If the taxpayers are funding the news, the least they  should be able to expect  is  comptence and  truth.  The inherent disadvantage of having the government in the news business is that the  management of MBC and KBS serve at the government’s pleasure.   If they want  complete freedom from accountability for  serving up bullshit  that  provokes  a national crisis — a crisis  that at least some of the usual suspects  saw as a way to bring down  Korea’s elected government  — let them go work for OhMyNews, Pressian, or  the Hanky.  Oh, wait:

The Korea Commission for the Press on Tuesday selected 12 beneficiaries of state subsidies for newspaper companies.

Beneficiaries of subsidies under controversial new press laws include eight dailies including the government-friendly Hankyoreh and Kyonghyang, the three online newspapers OhMyNews, Pressian and Issuei, and one magazine. The commission said it selected the 12 out of 32 applicants for the subsidy based on 10 screening categories.

The commission will distribute a total of W15.7 billion (US$1=W943) among the news companies this year. Some W200 million will be spent on improving readers’ rights, W400 million on management consulting, W7.5 billion on corporate restructuring and new business projects and W7.5 billion on updating facilities and promoting computerization.  [Chosun Ilbo, July 4, 2006]

More here  and here.  If the power to tax is the power to destroy, then the power to subsidize  eventually becomes the power to censor.   Can anyone name one leftist Korean news organization with a major audience that was not subsidized or funded by Roh Moo Hyun’s government? 

One wonders how taking the Hankyoreh slant out of South Korean public television, which occupies a good share of the market, might change attitudes toward North Korea:

“Considering the situation from President Lee’s point of view, the behavior of the media, whose chiefs were appointed by Roh, didn’t let the current government work its way. It was even — to put it extremely — pro-North Korea,” Ko Sang-tu, a politics professor of Yonsei University, said.

“The cost will be high at the beginning of his term, but he thinks there will be larger benefits later on. The ongoing friction and his falling approval will be temporary, and the situation will eventually turn in favor of him,” he said.

He cited the remarkable change of the Korean people’s view toward North Korea over the past 10 years. Their confrontational mindset thawed with sympathy as liberal Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun introduced reconciliatory exchanges with the North, which were aired in the media.

I’m sure the boys at government-funded Yonhap must have felt conflicted while  writing this.  At times during Roh’s term, Yonhap also seemed to be borrowing its material from the Rodong Sinmun.  Still, given the likely impact on them,  their effort is admirably balanced, and it was fair of them to point out that Lee’s actions thus far aren’t really any different from Roh’s.  One still might have hoped Korea would do better than this, but if I were in  Lee’s position, I’m not sure that I’d have felt free not to get rid of people whose interest in pulling the levers of power exceeded their interest in speaking the truth.  No one elected the presidents of KBS or MBC to govern the Republic of Korea  through a vanguard elite of 14-year-olds, radicals, and online myth-writers (ht). 

At this point, it’s  starting to  look  like  Lee has survived this first major challenge  to his leadership reasonably well.  Some have criticized the way Lee handled the beef imports question, but now that’s it emerged that the decision to allow U.S. beef imports  was probably made by his predecessor, and that the usual suspects were lying in ambush, unrestrained by plausibility or truth, I’m not sure what Lee could have done to foresee this.  It hardly even  makes sense in retrospect.  The end result is that Lee’s most influential  opponents and their lawless tactics have been discredited, and Lee now has a perfectly good excuse to knock them down a peg and enforce the law as written.   In one sign of how the silent majority must  feel, American beef is  selling well.   I’ll be interested in seeing whether Lee’s poll numbers recover.

Update:   Now the KBS Chairman is under arrest for “mismanagement,” which sounds a little hokey.  But the ideological subtext is interesting:

The KBS shakeup is seen as indicative of the increasing friction between the conservative Lee government and major broadcasters that have been critical of his pro-business reform and hardline stance on North Korea. Lee has already replaced the heads of public broadcasters SkyLife, Arirang TV and YTN with close confidants, many of whom worked closely with Lee during his presidential election campaign last year.

Opposition and civic organizations berate Jung’s dismissal as an attempt at media control, while conservative circles justify the move, accusing the one time KBS chief of “incompetence” and “leftist” bias.  [Yonhap]

I’d be much more interested in any evidence of North Korean influence over the government broadcaster than I would be in the officials’ lawful  exercise of discretion in their financial management decisions.  Bias and  shoddy journalism?  Check, and good reason  for a new administration to bring in fresh and more like-minded faces.  But  arrests, absent evidence of something we’d recognize as an actual crime,  transform a  normal political transition into a purge.   

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Breaking the Blockade

[Update: Andrei Lankov has a must-read piece on radio broadcasting in the Asia Times Online.]

Where there is demand, there will be a supply, and the trickle of alternative information to North Korea, though small, shows signs of persistence and of having a receptive market. In addition to Radio Free NK and Open Radio for North Korea, there is now a Japan-based broadcaster, Shiokaze. The DailyNK interviews its director. Although their original focus is on sending messages to Japanese abductees, they seem to have internalized the South Korean broadcasters’ message that only democratization will solve the problem in the long run. Three cheers for the Japanese-Korean alliance!

Meanwhile, and notwithstanding the authorizations in the North Korean Human Rights Act, the U.S. government still hasn’t expanded its broadcasts to the North. You have to think that there will be an audience for those broadcasts when over half of those North Korean refugees in Thailand (the number has now jumped to 276, plus six more who were just caught) are now saying they would rather go to the United States than South Korea — despite the language and cultural barriers that go with that choice.

“They should be given full information on advantages and disadvantages they would have when choosing South Korea or the U.S. as their final destination, and full autonomy in making a final decision,” Yoo said.

The pastor, who is active in the U.S., claimed that he had confirmed from ranking U.S. officials that their government is ready to accept North Korean defectors according to the North Korean Human Rights Act whatever their numbers are.

You may also recall this group interview in which a group of North Korean refugee-students turned out to be Bolton-loving neocons.

None of the papers bothers to tell us why the refugees would rather go to America. My own feelings on their preference would depend on those reasons. If they fear censorship or persecution in the South, then we have a system for sorting out the veracity of those claims. If the reasons are mainly economic, then we should take only those the South Koreans won’t take. Our goal is a free and united Korea, and psychology — not economics, and probably not even Kim Jong-Il — will prove to be the greatest long-term barrier to reunification. This is how the process of South and North getting to know each other again needs to start.

Meanwhile, the Marmot points another lapse of content-neutrality by South Korea (though it falls short of the actual or vicarious forms of censorship, including press censorship, we’ve seen in the past).

North Korea has complained about fliers distributed by activist groups here that criticize its regime since August last year, and when we asked for evidence it sent us the fliers via liaison officers on Aug. 10,” said Hwang Ha-soo, assistant minister in the [UniFiction] ministry’s office for inter-Korean dialogue. They were distributed in the North by the Democracy Network Against a North Korean Gulag and the North Korea Christian Association and “primarily contained criticism of the North Korean regime and its leader, he said. “Such behavior by a handful of civic groups goes against an inter-Korean agreement and we are deeply sorry about it,” he added. “Domestic law does not ban such activities, but we urge them to stop immediately because they may strain the inter-Korean relationship.

I think whether the South Korean government has any legitimate basis to object to this depends on how the leaflets are being delivered. If the method creates a danger of accidental hostilities, there’s a legit basis. But that’s not what the South Koreans are saying. They’re asking private organizations not to engage in unmonitored speech with individuals in a neighboring country because the content of their speech threatens another government’s claim of an absolute monopoly on thought. I can’t recall the last time any reasonable person recognized the legitimacy of such a claim.

To learn about, or contribute to, the Democracy Network Against the North Korean Gulag, click here.

Photo cred: From here. It claims to depict grafitti filmed in N. Hamgyeong province in 2001: “Kim Jong Il is driving our country into catastrophe. People! Awaken and fight!”

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