May 11, 2017

President Moon Jae-in Goes Right to Work

What a difference -- newly-elected President Moon Jae-in of South Korea has vowed to create open, transparent and caring government, work with the progressive and centrist parties and the conservative opposition to promote needed changes, and address pressing economic and security issues. He stopped by at a rally of the Sewol ferry victims families, who were neglected by the previous administration of Park Geun-hye.

Moon announced the nomination of Lee Nak-yon (Governor of South Cholla Province) as Prime Minister and Suh Hoon (who has worked on previous engagement policies toward North Korea) as National Intelligence Service Director and the appointment of Im Jong-seok (former pro-democracy student movement leader) as the Blue House Chief of Staff. The photo shows Moon with his staff, walking in the Blue House compound.

May 9, 2017

Moon Jae-in Becomes President of South Korea

    Moon Jae-in, the former human rights lawyer and a close associate of former president Roh Moo-hyun, was elected as the 19th president of South Korea, in a special election on May 9, due to the impeachment of Park Geun-hye.

    Though he was a strong candidate on his own merit, Moon's candidacy was also propelled by discontented citizens who became wary of public corruption (exemplified by the one that brought down Park Geun-hye), economic policy mismanagement, and uncertain future faced by younger generations. It is also a culmination and sweet victory of "candlelight revolution," participated by millions of citizens in peaceful, orderly protests -- without any violence or casualties.

    Moon's first priority would be to address pressing domestic issues, but he will also need to show keen and strong leadership in promoting steps towards defusing tensions in Northeast Asia.

March 31, 2017

"Park Geun-hye’s arrest affirms South Korea’s rule of law"

[Editorial, Hankyoreh Daily, South Korea]

Former president Park Geun-hye has finally been put in jail. After Kang Bu-yeong, the judge in charge of warrants for the Seoul Central District Court, issued an arrest warrant for charges including bribery on Mar. 31, Park suffered the ignominy of being South Korea’s third former president to be jailed. While personally, this was no doubt a very unfortunate development, legally speaking, it was the obvious outcome.

While there were some who said that Park should be shown lenience out of respect for her status as former president or for the sake of national harmony and unity, it’s significant that the court has affirmed once again the great principle of the rule of law, namely, that all citizens are equal before the law. We hope that Park’s arrest will be a turning point confirming that the Republic of Korea is a democratic republic and ensuring that politics and leaders who think of themselves as above the Constitution and the law and who roll back democracy have no place in this country. READ MORE

March 24, 2017

Sunken Sewol Ferry Recovered

The sunken Sewol ferry has been raised from the bottom of the sea, near the third anniversary of its tragic sinking. Many questions still remain to be answered. The captain and crew got prison sentences for negligence, but it remains to be seen the true nature of the former Park Geun-hye's government in handling (or mis-handling) this incident and (delayed and disorganized) recovery efforts. Perhaps the current prosecution of Park Geun-hye will shed some light on this.

Hopefully the remains of the nine missing passengers will be found and some closures can be made for the families of the victims (304 bodies were retrieved, mostly high school students from one South Korean school on a school trip). The families went through tough ordeal because the government had portrayed them as being anti-government even though they were simply demanding answers.

March 17, 2017

Korea News Analysis Featured on Democracy Now!

PBS news program Democracy Now! (hosted by Amy Goodman) featured, on March 13,  extensive coverage and interviews on developments in South Korea and tensions with North Korea. Guests were activist Christine Ahn and well-known Korea scholar Prof. Bruce Cummings. See videos (above) or transcripts (part 1, part 2).

Park Geun-hye Ousted, Presidential Election on May 9

[From Reuters] South Korea said on Wednesday it will hold an election on May 9 to choose a successor for former President Park Geun-hye, who was removed from office in a historic court ruling last week over a widening corruption scandal. Prosecutors said on Wednesday Park - the first democratically elected president to be removed from office in South Korea - would be summoned for questioning on Tuesday into the influence-peddling scandal. The Constitutional Court dismissed Park from office on Friday when it upheld a parliamentary impeachment vote in December. READ MORE

December 9, 2016

The People Have Spoken

Koreans in South Korea have a long history of massive street protests that resulted in changes of governments. The April Student Revolution of 1960 led to the downfall of the Syngman Rhee dictatorship. The Bu-Ma Mass Protests of 1979 triggered a series of events that led to the end of the dictator Park Chung-hee's repressive regime. The June Democratic Uprising of 1987 brought democratic political reforms, including direct presidential elections.  Now, massive candlelight protests of Winter 2016, which was carried out peacefully with remarkable order, have prompted the impeachment of Park Geun-hye. 

Amidst popular outcry, the Park dynasty has come to an end. Park Chung-hee, a former officer in the Japanese Imperial Army who went after Korean independence fighters, made himself a president after staging a coup d'├ętat in 1961, ruling with iron fist while suppressing popular dissent with acute brutality. Park's seemingly-endless reign ended in 1979 when his own Korean CIA chief, fearful of massive bloodshed of protesting people, assassinated his boss.  Park Geun-hye, the daughter of Park Chung-hee, was elected to presidency in 2012, under some suspicions of voting fraud and irregularities of government interference. Yet, the Park Geun-hye's demise was her own doing, as the corruption and cronyism surrounding her inner circles finally caught up with her. It can be said then that both the father and the daughter were removed from the president's office, in large part, by the popular will and action.

This is not the first time that candlelight protests and impeachment played out in conjunction in South Korea. Former president Roh Moo-hyun was also impeached in 2004, on a minor charge of electioneering that was amplified by the conservative opposition party legislators based on political motivation. During that time, candlelight protests called FOR THE RESCINDMENT of the impeachment and gave support to Roh.  In the end, the Constitutional Court overturned the impeachment and Roh returned to power.

Though the impeachment of Park Geun-hye will not be finalized until the decision of the Constitutional Court is made in coming months, the impeachment decision will likely hold due to the extent and gravity of the charges. Moreover, currently only 3% of South Koreans support Park Geun-hye and many are beginning to see the fallacies of her failed policies, such as the revision of history textbooks, agreement with Japan on the "comfort women" issue, agreement with the U.S. to place the THAAD anti-missile defense system, and the neglect and incompetent handling of the Sewol ferry disaster. The people have spoken -- coming out to the streets in millions, in six consecutive weekends.  Now, the people await the transition of power to a new government.