Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ambassador Stephens, Crossing Borders

On balance, it would be hard to find a less controversial space on the entire internet than the blog of an ambassador (unless it is former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray, perhaps), and this rule holds absolutely true for that of Ambassador Kathleen Stephens, the outgoing U.S. ambassador here in Seoul; so much so that I didn't know the blog even existed until the Hankyoreh decided to inform me of it. Bearing in mind I am a journalist, that is quite a high degree of non-controversy.

Anyhow, Hankyoreh plucked the Stephens blog from media obscurity on Saturday 25th in order to proclaim, "스티븐스 대사 'DJ 화해통일 비전 실현해야'" ("Ambassador Stephens, 'We must realize DJ's reconciliatory unification'"), the evidence for which came from this blog post, dated June 20th, about a cycling trip Ambassador Stephens recently took to the home province of Kim Dae Jung, Jeollanamdo.

There, in Gungang Park on the island of Jindo, Stephens told an assembled crowd in Korean (translation mine), "We remember Kim Dae Jung's vision of unification through reconciliation," and continued, "Let's strengthen our resolve to realize President Kim's vision!"

This, the Hankyoreh believes, is being interpreted by some (who these someones are, note, is not made clear) as containing an "indirect criticism of President Lee Myung Bak's hardline policy."

Erm, not really. But good try.

By the by, were you to read the same blog post in English, you'd find that the part about DJ is slightly different;

We remember President Kim’s vision of eventual reunification through reconciliation. We look forward to the day when the whole Peninsula is free and all Korean people experience a reconciliation befitting the sacrifice we honor.

Make of that what you will.

Monday, June 20, 2011

North Korean Human Rights Slides Again

What has long been suspected is official; the North Korean Human Rights Bill will not be addressed during the June session of the National Assembly.

Given that the same bill had been delayed or otherwise avoided by the powers that be for six years, having been first introduced way back in 2005, watchers are not surprised.

To be frank, it had never really seemed likely that the bill would make it onto the statute at this point either, given a history of implacable leftist opposition, the frequently violent nature of South Korean legislative politics and the fact that the Grand National Party has not always seemed unduly committed to making it happen anyway.

Meanwhile, whatever one may think of the Chosun Ilbo, and I have had some choice words for it before, it has always supported the bill, and in this article amply reflects the annoyance felt by many at the hypocrisy of the ruling party;

(GNP Floor Leader) Hwang Woo Yea, speaking on the 7th said, ‘If we were to not pass the North Korean Human Rights Bill within the session, there would be popular resistance and international criticism,’ and on the same day, policy head Lee Joo Young said, ‘We will absolutely pass the North Korea Human Rights Bill in the June National Assembly.’

However, these avowals became mere empty words. An anonymous official near the center of GNP politics said, ‘We judged that it would be all but impossible to deal with the North Korean Human Rights Bill within the June National Assembly given the Democratic Party’s opposition to dealing with it and insistence on merging it with their own North Korean Livelihoods and Human Rights Law.’ A Democratic Party person said, ‘The Grand National Party didn’t appear to have a strong will to deal with it during the June National Assembly from the beginning.’

So off the bill goes, leaving in its wake the task of addressing corruption vis a recent savings bank scandal and the composition of a group to deal with the ongoing dilly-dallying and silliness that passes for negotiation of the US-South Korea FTA.

Of course, on the human rights bill both sides may, in reality, have been quite right. The GNP really would find it extremely difficult to get the bill onto the statute in any form as things stand, and many GNP lawmakers see it as a bill which can be traded away for more beneficial, populist policies as time demands anyway. The Democratic Party knows all this equally well and is quite happy to play that particular game, leaving the original bill stalled in the Legislation and Judiciary Committee while the two sides trade self-aggrandizements about how much they 'truly' want to help the North Korean people.

If the nation continues on this path, of course, one day one of two things will occur. Either unification will come, and some hard questions will have to be asked of those who did nothing to help the North Korean people, or it will not come, defections will continue and eventually there will be enough defectors in areas of South Korea to make such a bill a vote winner.

It will be interesting then to see how quickly those lawmakers who would currently prefer to ignore the problem completely change their collective tune.