Modern Warriors and 21st Century Messages: Korea Open for Business

By | April 06, 2013 | 1 Comment

Lee Gun-hee, shortly after returning to South Korea on April 6 | via News 1

Samsung Electronics head Lee Kun-hee, shortly after returning to South Korea on April 6 | via News 1

“I know there are some people who disagree with our nuclear deterrent and don’t want us to renew it,” British Prime Minister David Cameron conceded in an op-ed published by the Daily Telegraph on April 3. “There are those who say that we don’t need it any more, because the Cold War has ended. There are those who say we can’t afford Trident any more, so we either need to find a viable cheaper option, or rely on the United States to protect us.”

However, he continued, “We need our nuclear deterrent as much today as we did when a previous British Government embarked on it over six decades ago. Of course, the world has changed dramatically. The Soviet Union no longer exists… [but] last year North Korea unveiled a long-range ballistic missile which it claims can reach the whole of the United States. If this became a reality it would also affect the whole of Europe, including the UK. Can you be certain how that regime, or indeed any other nuclear-armed regime, will develop?”

While the threat posed by North Korea is certainly an unconvincing pretext upon which to base the renewal of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent, Cameron is basically right: it is not possible to be certain. Therefore all outcomes, however unlikely, must be considered. But not without a wry smile, I hasten to add. The op-ed inspired this classic cartoon in The Times:

A cartoon published by The Times following David Cameron's op-ed linking Britain's nuclear deterrent to the risk posed by North Korea | photo ⓒDestination Pyongyang

A cartoon published by The Times following David Cameron’s op-ed linking Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent to the risk posed by North Korea | photo ⓒDestination Pyongyang

Which brings us handily to South Korea, where people have been “keeping calm and carrying on,” as the famous Second World War entreaty would have it, for weeks now. The increasingly self-evident truth for the regime in Pyongyang surely is that it now takes more than a hatful of Kim Jong-un-led onsite guidance visits (현지지도) to military units near Baekryeong Island to rattle the stoic 50 million south of the 38th parallel.

Conversely, it is presumably hard for the North Korean government to ignore the impact one septuagenerian Samsung Electronics chairman is able to have by simply coming back to Korea, which happened on the afternoon of April 6 when, after more than 80 days in Hawaii and Japan, Lee Kun-hee arrived at Gimpo Airport aboard a private jet.

Lee Gun-hee arrives in Seoul on April 6 | image via Hankyoreh

Lee Kun-hee arrives in Seoul on April 6 | image via Hankyoreh

Upon arrival, Lee idly commented to reporters that he “met many people, took many trips and planned for the future, so three months flew by,” adding, however, that lack of exercise was causing his feet trouble. He said that he was unable to relax, but that comment had nothing to do with inter-Korean politics. In short, he said nothing of any importance whatsoever; however, that only appears to have made the impact all the greater, for as both Chosun Ilbo and Hankyoreh were quick to note, the social network-o-sphere was soon abuzz with news of the arrival. The message was clear:

I guess it’s ok to set aside my war fears for a while now that Chairman Lee Kun-hee, who was overseas, is returning to the homeland. (“해외에 있던 이건희 회장이 귀국한다고 하니 전쟁 걱정은 잠깐 접어도 되겠네요.”)

They say Chairman Lee is coming back to Korea over the weekend. That’s a relief. War won’t break out. (“이 회장이 주말에 귀국한다고 한다. 다행이다. 전쟁은 나지 않을 것이다”)

These comments may or may not have been tongue in cheek, but there is certainly something in the perspective itself. For while the rhetoric and the misguidedly frothy newspaper headlines are ill-targeted, there really is a war on. It is not happening on battlefields, though; it is happening in business, in the media and on the KOSPI, South Korea’s stock exchange. This is the modern Korean battleground, and in this particular arena, Lee Kun-hee is a giant.

His message is simple. Welcome to South Korea. We’re open for business.

Blog by: Christopher Green

One Comment

  1. Lovely juxtaposition!!

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