Protest and Remembrance: #Shigak no. 50

By | August 01, 2017 | No Comments

A directive published in 1938 ordering the recruitment of military comfort women. | Image: Wikicommons (Located via the Korean Wikipedia page “위안부”)

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.

Protest and Remembrance: #Shigak no. 50

by Sino-NK

This installment of #Shigak explores the two most popular political stories from the conservative and progressive Twittersphere between 7.21 and 7.27. The most popular political development among progressives is the protest by the Korean Government Employees Union for Lee Un-ju’s removal from political office. For conservatives, the most popular story is the passing of Kim Kun-ja, a former “comfort woman” for the Japanese army during World War II.

The stories were selected by totaling the number of retweets and favorites from the two most prominent conservative and progressive dailies.1)The Chosun Ilbo and Donga Ilbo are counted as conservative. The Hankyoreh and Kyunghyang Sinmun are considered progressive. The stories with the greatest number of total retweets and favorites are reported here. Included at the bottom are are graphs showing the most prominent words from both sides during the period under consideration.2)The interactive graphs were created in Google Sheets by Steven Denney using data called from Twitter in RStudio using the “twitteR” package. “Noise,” defined here as unintelligible findings and redundancies, were removed from the data.

The Korean Government Employees Union (KGEU; 전국공무원노동조합, shortened to 전공노) protested outside the Yeouido headquarters of the beleaguered People’s Party on July 24 to call for the immediate resignation of a party lawmaker who it accuses of belittling the important social role played by South Korea’s government employees.

Lee Un-ju, a second-term lawmaker and member of both the Steering and Strategy and Finance committees of the National Assembly, made her deeply unpopular comments in a radio interview with privately-owned news network YTN on July 19 (episode #4174 here). She suggested in the interview that work in the public sector is not particularly demanding, before compounding her obvious faux pas by declaring that Korean society needs to be one in which “lots of people are paying tax, not one in which lots of people are consuming it (세금 먹는 사람이 많은 사회).”

According to the KGEU, Lee’s comments trivialize the notion of public service and are an insult to the whole of the public sector. The union therefore demanded that she issue a prompt public apology and resign her position, adding that it is she who is unnecessary, not public sector workers.

Lee last made a name for herself back in April when she jumped ship from the then-opposition Democratic Party to join the People’s Party in advance of the May presidential election. Lee claimed at the time that her choice was driven by the Democratic Party primary, which saw Moon Jae-in chosen as the party’s presidential candidate. The result left her with no hope for the future, she claimed.

It is a perspective she may now be ruing. When Lee jumped from the Democratic Party ship on April 5, People’s Party candidate Ahn Cheol-soo was looking competitive, but by the time the votes had been tallied, Ahn was a very distant second and the party had just forty seats in the National Assembly. There has recently been talk about the formation of an alliance or other parliamentary arrangement to cement links between the two main left-wing parties, which share common ground in several policy areas.

On July 23, one of the survivors of WWII era Japanese sexual slavery, Kim Kun-ja, passed away at the age of 91, reports the Joongang Ilbo. She came into the spotlight in 2007 when she testified at a US Congress hearing about her experiences as a comfort woman. In the wake of her death, many South Koreans, including celebrities and politicians, paid tribute to her. With her death, there are now 37 remaining survivors of military sexual slavery in South Korea.

A politically salient topic, the politics of the comfort women issue has continued to drive a deep wedge between Japan and South Korea. On December 28, 2015 then President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo concluded a surprising agreement on the comfort women issue. The agreement stipulated that the Japanese PM would issue a written apology and Japan would provide monetary compensation. It also added that the agreement is “irreversible,” an indication that both governments sought to put the issue to rest. The effect was anything but finality. The controversial agreement was rejected by many South Koreans who felt that the agreement lacked prior consultation with the victims. The remainder of 2015 and 2016 saw public outrage in South Korea grow over the agreement; the issue was one of the rallying points against President Park. And on January 6, 2017, the Japanese government recalled Japan’s ambassador to South Korea for 85 days as a part of protest over South Korean activists’ installation of comfort woman statute in front of the Japanese consulate in Busan.

In 2017, after his election victory, President Moon Jae-in told Prime Minister Abe that the vast majority of Koreans cannot accept the agreement and signaled his intention to renegotiate the deal. Prime Minister Abe has remained adamant that South Korea must fulfill the agreement. The Japanese prime minister’s approval rating has taken a dip recently, so it is possible that he will avoid a politically contentious bi-lateral issue, unless he decides to tilt rightward in order to rally his nationalist base.


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1. The Chosun Ilbo and Donga Ilbo are counted as conservative. The Hankyoreh and Kyunghyang Sinmun are considered progressive.
2. The interactive graphs were created in Google Sheets by Steven Denney using data called from Twitter in RStudio using the “twitteR” package. “Noise,” defined here as unintelligible findings and redundancies, were removed from the data.