Protests in Seoul – it ain’t just about the beef

Whoa, all this talk about the US beef import protest in Seoul has me curious. Not one who’d usually follow politics, I couldn’t help but dig up more information on the issue.

So here’s what I understand of the situation after perusing articles from The Chronicle Journal and this excellent piece by Choe Sang-hun of the International Herald Tribune.

More than that: It isn’t just about the beef

The foundation: Nationalism or anti-Americanism?

  • A very thin line separates the two.
  • Back in 2002, two teenage girls were killed by a US military armoured vehicle. Many young Koreans, who feel humiliated by the US military presence, rallied in protest.
  • Roh Moo-hyun rode the nationalist wave then to election victory and pledged never to “kowtow to the Americans.”
Roh Moo-hyung: ‘I will never kowtow to the Americans.’
  • During Roh’s term as President, the South Korea – US alliance was strained. South Koreans grew tired of Roh’s ideological pronouncements so they gave a landslide victory to Lee Myung-bak during the recent election.
  • President Lee Myung-bak promised, among other things, to mend ties with Washington.

The new President: Lee Myung-bak

  • Elected Dec 2007 and was hailed as a long-awaited leader who could salvage South Korea’s alliance with the US.
  • President Lee’s predecessor was the left-leaning Roh Moo-hyun who famously declared that he would never become “a Korean leader kowtowing to the Americans.”
  • After 6 months in office, President Lee is being vilified by his people for being what his predecessor vowed never to be.
What a laugh: US President George Bush and South Korean
President Lee Myung-bak share a golf buggy at Camp David. – AP Photo
  • On April 19, President Lee became the 1st South Korean leader invited to Camp David – the US presidential retreat – for a meeting with President George W. Bush. Leaders like Roh would never have been invited.

The issue

  • On the eve of the meeting with Bush, Seoul agreed to lift 5-year-old band on American beef imports – a demonstration of Lee’s eagerness to rebuild ties with Washington.
Protest: South Koreans take to the streets
  • The sh*t hit the fan back home in South Korea. The demonstrations became so huge that Lee’s entire cabinet offered to resign. Lee’s office did not say whether the President would accept the resignations.
  • Beef dispute is not entirely about health, science or economics – US beef is half the price of Korean beef. It’s a test of whether the leaders can resist pressure from superpowers like the United States.

The protest

  • South Korea’s largest anti-government protest in 20 years (since the pro-democracy demonstrations back in 1987. Ironically, the June 10 rally coincided with the anniversary of the protests in 1987.)
Grim reminder: Is this 1987 all over again?
  • Police built barricades out of shipping containers, coated them with oil and filled them with sandbags to prevent protesters from reaching President Lee Myung-bak’s Blue House.
  • Protesters put up leaflets on the barrier. It read: “This is a new border for our country. From here starts the US state of South Korea.”
Dwindling popularity: Can President Lee Myung-bak win back
the trust and confidence of his people after this?
  • President Lee Myung-bak is being likened to Lee Wan-yong, the infamous turn-of-the-century royal minister who sold his country out to Japan, in other words – National Traitor No.1.

After this little simple research, I think I’ve got a clearer picture of what the beef protest is all about. In this case, it’s all about the politics. Uh-huh, it sure ain’t about the beef alone.

Related:
Beef protest continues with largest candlelight demonstration yet
South Koreans protest US beef imports

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