Politics of Discontent Over American Beef
By Choi Yearn-hong
A very crazy thing or a series of crazy things are happening in Korean politics. President Lee Myung-bak is now the target of impeachment by opposition politicians and interest group leaders for his stance on open-door to U.S. beef.
He was elected as new president in December 2007, by a large margin despite many problems and troubling factors. In May 2008, his popularity plunged to 29 percent.
No one can explain this kind of roller coaster political phenomenon outside Korea.
I believe a great majority of Korean people are patiently waiting for President Lee to react to this situation and emerge as a performing president to fix the nation's discontent and start a new leap towards economic development.
But his 29 percent popularity is a troublesome factor to political scientists and Korean politics. Many of his staff and close associates in the Blue House and Cabinet are from affluent areas south of the Han River having allegedly amassed their fortune with illegal and immoral investments. No doubt, such a staffing policy could harm his popularity.
Lee's Camp David meeting with President George W. Bush in April 2008 was amending diplomatic relationships with the United States.
Opening the market is imperative to the advanced nations, even though Korea's agricultural and service sectors are not competitive at the present time.
Korea's economy dwells on exporting. Therefore, it cannot close the market indefinitely. Opening the market will eventually make the agricultural and service sectors competitive.
I interpreted the agricultural sector's anti-Lee and anti-U.S. campaign as being possible on the part of Korean farmers and due to support from the opposition politicians.
Then, candlelit demonstrations every night in the street and at the Cheonggye Stream were organized and attended by young Korean people under a constitutional cause of peaceful demonstration.
I personally don't like candlelit demonstrations, even if they are peaceful. Why? I still remember vividly the opposition politicians who were defeated in the National Assembly election after the 1960 Student Uprising staged the torch-lit demonstration in Seoul and demanded an immediate unification talk with Kim Il-sung of North Korea at Panmunjeom.
They instigated political unrest. The newly inaugurated Chang Myon government was innocent and vulnerable, and victimized by a coup. A military coup detat under Army General Park Chung-hee ended the Chang government in less than one year.
Do you think it is reasonable to impeach President Lee at this juncture?
Do you think the candlelit demonstrations are innocent and constituting peaceful culture?
My answer is negative to both.
I understand their anger to mad cow disease and the possible import of beef from mad cows. I am indignant myself.
The Korean people should be mad at the United States, if the United States attempts to sell mad cow's beef to Korea. That is a crime against humanity. No one can tolerate mad cows inside or outside the United States.
The U.S. government should make it clear that it does not intend to export beef, which can harm public health.
There may be all kinds of rumors against U.S. beef: most of all, the inspections of exported beef are very loose, because the American people are not consuming such beef. If this is so, the United States should be blamed and accused as an uncivilized nation. It should not be tolerated by American people. Penalties from the international society are rightly due to the beef producing and exporting country.
Even if the U.S.-Korea beef agreement does not contain measures against the disease, it is common sense to ban and punish such an exporting firm and nation. If the additional measures are necessary under the circumstances, the two governments should establish more rules banning un-exportable beef.
All Korean people have the same goal to maintain their good health. They do not disagree with President Lee and his government. Then, why do some Korean people show anger and launch large-scale candlelit demonstrations that scare other people and instigate political instability?
Rocking the boat is harmful to all Korean people. Democracy is not rocking the boat in the sea. All are in the same boat namely, Korea. Democracy cannot survive with an impeachment move by the opposition political parties in less than three months of the new government's inauguration.
In a democratic society, citizens' support and demand of their government are essential. Opposition party's complaints should be channeled into the national assembly debates and citizens' discontent should be expressed through freedom of expression in daily newspapers' open editorial pages. 10,000 candle-lit demonstrations and impeachment moves should be the last means to influence the government in any democratic nation.
Democracy cannot survive without civility, reasonable citizens, their tolerance, and their peaceful debates on issues. I do not want to see candle-lit demonstrations in the night, even though they are less frightening than the torch-lit demonstrations of the 1960s.
The writer is a poet and a columnist for The Korea Times. He is the founding president of the Korean-American Poets’ Group. ― ED.