Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Knowing When to Quit Is Important

It is hard to decide whether this is a symbol of a vibrant and blossoming democracy, or another example of how one side or the other in almost all arguments related to North Korea conducted in South Korean civil society and government circles tends to simply refuse to acquiesce to the majority viewpoint, willfully acting to the detriment of the image of the nation and its ability to persue its national interest.

It's a letter sent by a South Korean NGO, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, or PSPD, to Mexico in its capacity as current chair of the UN Security Council. In the letter, PSPD, whose rather grandiose administrative HQ I can see from my office window, thus confirming their existence and suggesting rather wealthy backers to boot, casts doubt on the Cheonan incident investigation, raising eight points of contention.

It is not my intention to debate whether their points have any merit. Some criticisms of the Joint Civilian-Military Investigation carry weight, and some questions remain about the event itself. That has been discussed at great length, though, and need not be revisited.

However, in the end I do think it reasonable to say that South Korea has a burgeoning civil society, and as a result PSPD has had more than its fair share of opportunities to put its viewpoint forward domestically since the Cheonan sank on March 26th, or since the investigation released its findings on May 20th, or at any time in between. Indeed, it did do that, as did almost every organization of note, including my employer.

But the act of sending a letter to the UN in an apparent attempt to deliberately undermine your own government's diplomatic efforts so late in the game? This is a very odd way to behave, and not in any way to be applauded. It is incumbent upon any moderately mature organization, which the offices of PSPD do imply that it purports to be, to recognize that in a functioning democracy which guarantees freedom of speech, it is important to know when one is on the wrong side, and from there to regroup and move on.

For all its good points and strengths, this is not something that South Korean civil society has yet learned.

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