Monday, August 30, 2010

The Calibre of South Korean Politicians

This article is one that didn't make it onto The Daily NK English page. As an example of extraordinary, willful xenophobia and undisguised nationalism delivered with no apparent sense of irony, it is splendid. As an example of the thinking of a national lawmaker in the 21st Century, it is quite disturbing.

(For those with the chops, check out the Korean version here)

Talking about Kim Jong Il’s latest visit to China, a former Democratic Party lawmaker, Jang Sung Min told a radio program this morning, “A lot of people criticize it for being to beg for the investiture of the crown prince or for food.”

Speaking on a Peace Broadcasting Company show, Jang went on, “There are some in Seoul diplomatic circles who criticize the fact that North Korea, which claims to be an independent state, would undertake dependency and tribute diplomacy, as the Chosun Dynasty did in the 17th and 18th centuries. The North is a new version of a vassal state, which has thrown away its national self-respect.”

He went on, “Some also say that in terms of his visits to the historical sites of the anti-Japanese colonial movement, Kim Jong Il is misusing our ancestors’ noble spirit for national liberation to establish the hereditary dynasty of the Kim family.”

“It is a national comedy and a hilarious move by the Kim Jong Il royal family, to lead national diplomacy in the exact opposite direction to Juche or the independence that they claim.”

“People in Seoul diplomatic circles think that the Juche ideology based on North Korean self-reliance or independence has already been demolished if his visit is related to the Kim Jong Eun succession issue and food aid,” he concluded.

(Translation by Kwon, E.K.)

What I dislike is that this man, a former lawmaker, is basically advocating for the Juche ideology in its "national independence and self-reliance" format.

By stating that Kim Jong Il should not be visiting the Chinese in this way, he is saying a lot about the South Korean relationship with the U.S, too, and furthermore betraying his considerable, ingrained xenophobic nationalism.

The fact is that national self-respect has nothing to do with independence, or an absence of foreigners on one's soil per se. That is the stuff of Kim Jong Il and Osama Bin Laden, and is reprehensible.

Instead, national self-respect has everything to do with a harmonious, adult presence in the international arena. That doesn't just mean hosting the Olympics or World Cup or G20 meeting, it means being aware of obligations and meeting those which it is possible, or ethically desirable, to meet.

North Korea has indeed thrown away its national self-respect; on this most people to the right of Han Sang Ryeol are happy to agree. But it did that when it sacrificed the wellbeing of its people for the chance to possess nuclear weapons, when it started using brinkmanship and threats as a means of extracting aid from the international community.

Whenever that was, it was not when Kim Jong Il snuck out of Pyongyang in the dead of night to go and visit a middle school in the Chinese countryside.

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