Neighborhood Ajummas, Fabricated Smears: #Shigak no. 48

By | July 17, 2017 | No Comments

Presidents Xi Jinping and Moon Jae-in held a bilateral summit on July 6, during which Xi reminded his ROK counterpart of China’s long history of relations with the DPRK. | Image: SBS News capture

On April 2, Sino-NK began a series of regular analyses looking at the South Korean presidential election through the lens of the Korean-language media, reviving a series that ran from February 2014 to October 2015. That revival continues post-election, as Moon embarks on the politically all-important first one hundred days in office. 

“Shigak” (시각), or “perspective” uses Twitter to curate sources on the key determinants of the election outcome. Each issue takes the most important tweets posted by Sino-NK analysts under the #시각 hashtag and augments them with essential annotations and a bite-size dollop of concentrated analysis. #Shigak is edited by Steven Denney and Christopher Green. Yongmin Lee is a regular contributor. Back issues can be found on the dedicated page. Importantly, users of Twitter are encouraged to adopt the hashtag and take part in the project

Neighborhood Ajummas, Fabricated Smears: #Shigak no. 48

by Sino-NK

This edition of #Shigak, the last under the existing format that has served Sino-NK so well since February 2014, covers the decline of the People’s Party, the apparent solidity of the “blood relationship” between China and North Korea, and Moon Jae-in’s hopes for inter-Korean relations. Oh, and a hint of what is to come in future editions of #Shigak. Watch this space!

A former high-ranking member of the People’s Party, Lee Joon-seo was arrested over his alleged involvement in fabricating information used to smear President Moon Jae-in’s son during the 2017 presidential election campaign. It was discovered about a month ago that Lee had faked a tip-off that a public agency hired Moon’s son due to his father’s influence. The Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the extent of Lee’s role and whether the party leadership knew about the plot.

It was not too long ago that the People’s Party was touted as the new kingmakers of South Korean politics. Largely made-up of the disgruntled anti-Moon Jae-in faction of progressive politicians, they took power in much of the Honam (southwestern) region in 2016. Even though the party’s presidential candidate, Ahn Cheol-soo was defeated, the party seemed to be continuing on as an opposition party playing a key role in passing ruling party ministerial appointments. However, the latest controversy casts a doubt over the party’s future. One People’s Party member went as far as saying that if the party leadership was found to be involved in the smear campaign against the president’s son, then the party should be dissolved.

Regular polling by Gallup Korea revealed that support for the People’s Party is in precipitous decline, reaching just six percent in the party’s main support base (Honam), between four and five percent nationwide, and, worse still, a mere two percent in Seoul. The problem is partly structural — the South Korean presidential system is not designed to sustain strong third parties — but more immediately it stems from a scandal wherein party member Lee Yu-mi fabricated an audio tape used to smear the then-opposition candidate Moon Jae-in during the recent presidential race, as the above analysis by Yongmin Lee notes. The party had tried unsuccessfully to claim that Lee Yu-mi acted alone.

During their summit meeting earlier this month, Xi Jinping reminded his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in that the People’s Republic of China has a relationship with North Korea that was formed on the battlefield and is therefore rather less amenable to change than perhaps Seoul, and certainly Washington, might like. Xi pointed out that a bilateral relationship of little more than two decades — formal relations between China and South Korea were established in 1992 — hardly compares to a bond of blood dating back to the 1950s.

On June 4, North Korean state media made an announcement that North Korea has successfully conducted an ICBM. This is not the first time that the North has conducted a missile test and, as a matter of fact, Pyongyang has already conducted several missile tests even after South Korea’s Pro-Sunshine Policy President Moon Jae-in was sworn in during May.

Although there are doubts whether the latest test was a success, it nonetheless shows Pyongyang’s determination to develop capability that can reach the US. North Korea’s ICBM launch comes after North-South Korea’s Taekwondo exchange in Muju. There are hopes that sporting exchanges might spearhead North-South dialogue. Moreover, President Moon has showed an interest in creating some sort of a unified Korean team for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. However, North Korean IOC member Chang-ung quickly shut down the idea.

Analysis of tweets since July 1, 2017 from the right-leaning Chosun Ilbo (@Chosun) and the left-leaning Hankyoreh (@hanitweet) shows that inter-state relations between the US, ROK, and DPRK remains salient, not surprising given North Korea’s successful test of an ICBM last week. Other salient issues include the scandal rocking Ahn Cheol-soo’s people party. There is currently an investigation ongoing into the use of “fabricated evidence” (제보 조작) used to smear Moon Jae-in in the run-up to the most recent presidential election.

There was some notable difference in coverage. Via their handle @hanitweet, the Hankyoreh concentrated some of their coverage on further developments in corruption allegations against former President Park Geun-hye (noted by the frequency of “재판” referring to “judgement” regarding collusion between the Park administration and Samsung). @hanitweet also covered another controversy involving the People’s Party, this one focusing on Assemblywoman Lee Un-ju (deputy floor leader). Lee disparaged against striking female cafeteria workers, calling them nothing more than “neighborhood ajummas” (“그냥 동네 아줌마들”), a condescending and insulting remark. The workers are calling upon Lee to apologize and step down from her post. The original story tweeted by @hanitweet was the most popular (by retweets and favorites) during the period covered.1)The interactive graphs were created in Google Sheets using data called from twitter in RStudio using the “twitteR” package. “Noise,” defined here as unintelligible findings and redundancies, were removed from the data.

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1. The interactive graphs were created in Google Sheets using data called from twitter in RStudio using the “twitteR” package. “Noise,” defined here as unintelligible findings and redundancies, were removed from the data.