Divided Political Parties and National Identity: #Shigak no. 09

By | July 24, 2014 | No Comments


Monument to Multiculturalism in Toronto represents a modern ideal, one which South Korea has pursued quite differently from Canada. | Image: Paul Bica/Wikipedia, Creative Commons 2.0

“Shigak” (시각), or “perspective,” is a multilingual data collection effort that uses Twitter to curate sources dealing in key political, social, and economic issues on South Korea. Each bimonthly issue takes only the most important tweets posted by Sino-NK analysts under the hashtag #시각 and augments them with essential annotations and a small dose of concentrated analysis.

Shigak is edited by Steven Denney, Yong Kwon, and Christopher Green. Back issues can be found on the dedicated page.

Divided Political Parties and National Identity: #Shigak no. 09

by Sino-NK

This issue of Shigak covers several key domestic developments in South Korea. To start, both the Saenuri party and New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) face uncertain futures as they approach the by-elections on July 30. With 15 seats in the national assembly up for grabs, the gravity of this “mini-general election” has prompted the opposition NPAD to make several strategic candidate nominations, provoking disputes within the party and placing the leadership of Kim Han-gil and Ahn Chul-soo into doubt. Meanwhile, the Saenuri Party is also divided as the candidates for party chairmanship spar over the ruling party’s relationship with the Blue House. Indeed, Kim Moo-sung’s triumph over pro-Park candidate Suh Chung-won may threaten President Park’s ability to govern effectively during her remaining term in office.

In the ongoing controversy over conflicting historical narratives in Northeast Asia, South Korea’s Kyunghyang Sinmun has begun to examine the roots of Japanese right-wing nationalism, engaging in the historiography of this debate over historiography. At the same time, one of the biggest issues dividing Japan and South Korea, the legacy of sexual abuse against women by armed forces, has been turned on Seoul as former “comfort women” filed a landmark lawsuit accusing the South Korean government of supervising a prostitution ring for US soldiers.

In other news, increasing number of immigrants are settling in South Korea and there is much talk of promoting a Korean brand of multiculturalism; however, where these signs of multiculturalism are present and if the government is even pursuing such a policy remain debatable.

Finally, North Korea commemorates the 20th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s death – and while Pyongyang heaped praises on the state’s founder, much of the world’s attention has been focused on Kim Jong-un’s limp.

The following tweets were posted between July 5 and July 20.

Amidst growing tension in Northeast Asia, Kyunghyang Sinmun (경향신문) released a report on Japanese right wing politics, chronicling the rise of Japanese nationalism from the Meiji Restoration to Post-War Japan. It examines the root of Japanese “right wing groups” (일본 우익 단체; 右翼団体; Uyoku dantai) in light of key events in Japanese history. One of the most fascinating aspects of the report is that it introduces important Japanese political figures in the context of Japan’s shift towards right-wing nationalism. In particular, this report illuminates on how Japanese right wing politicians from Kish Nobusuke to Abe Shinzo and from Hatoyama Ichiro to Hatoyama Yukio, have spent remarkable amount of time and energy to rehabilitate and rejuvenate their national narrative.

As revealed by recent uproars over Moon Chang-geuk’s nomination and the revisionist history textbooks forwarded by the “new right,” historical narrative plays an important role in South Korean politics. The continued focus on Japanese right-wing narrative in South Korea suggests that the Park administration will likely remain critical of Japan’s revisionist approach and the Abe government’s reinterpretation of the role of the Self-Defense Forces. However, given how the rise of China has also stirred debates in South Korean politics, Seoul’s icy diplomatic relationship with Tokyo may also change in time.

In The Diplomat Akli Hadid writes that modern South Korea is forging a new concept: “tamunhwa” (다문화), the Korean word for “multiculturalism,” and “redefining multiculturalism” in the process (Tweet #1). Hadid argues that the basic idea underpinning South Korea’s multicultural policy, which emphasizes Koreans learning “as much as they can about immigrants’ original culture while setting up as many cultural immersion programs as possible for immigrants,” is unique to Korea. Aside from a passing mention of universities hiring more foreign professors, inviting foreigners to speak about Korea at public forums, and free Korean language courses for foreigners, little actual evidence is given that Koreans are actually learning as much as they can about immigrants’ culture. More evidence is provided for the efforts being made by the Korean government and civil society to help immigrants assimilate: new laws regulating the “industry for foreign brides,” tentative promises of reform for passing laws that regulate foreign business activity, and pressure from the English teaching community on the Korean government to adopt more multicultural-friendly policies.

The significant increase in immigrants (Tweet #2) in South Korea and a changing South Korean national identity will make topics (and concepts) such as tamunhwa interesting to a lot of researchers and analysts. For this reason, conceptual will be of the utmost importance; “conceptual stretching” is a constant threat in the social sciences. Korea, according to conventional understanding of what makes a country multicultural, is not multicultural, despite the influx of other peoples from other cultures. Korea is not yet a multicultural society, nor is its government seen as earnestly promoting multicultural policies (as Hadid notes). If conventional definitions of multiculturalism are used, it is hard to argue that is “redefining multiculturalism,” because it is not actually pursuing a multicultural agenda. It may be pursuing something else—something unique—but that, certainly, is not a multicultural policy.

South Korea’s main opposition party NPAD (새정치민주연합) is having another round of nomination problems; this time regarding strategic nomination (전략공천) for July 30 by-elections. In a surprise move, the NPAD nominated Ki Dong-min, the former deputy mayor of Seoul for political affairs, as their candidate for the national assembly seat representing Dongjak district of Seoul (동작을) over a long-time favorite Heo Dong-jun. Another nomination that is embroiled in controversy is in Kwangju where a relative political newcomer Kwon Eun-hee was given a nomination over a long-time party affiliate Chun Jung-bae.

The popular perception is that the leadership of NPAD nominated Ki because of his close ties to the mayor of Seoul, Park Won-sun who enjoys solid political support in Seoul. By appointing Ki to Dongjak, the NPAD believes that it can channel Mayor Park’s supporters to win in this district. However, there is great internal dispute over this decision as Geum Tae-seop resigned his position as NPAD’s spokesperson in protest. Meanwhile, Kim had made it clear that he wanted to run in Dongjak but accepted the party’s decision to choose Ki over him. Before June 4 local elections, Ahn Chul Soo promised to get rid of strategic nomination process. However, he was faced with stiff challenges from within the party and retracted his promise. Nomination controversies are increasingly tainting Ahn’s new politics (새정치) brand. It will be crucial for Ahn and the NPAD to overcome nomination controversies before they further damage their brand and provoke further infighting.

Joongang Ilbo reports on the victory of Kim Moo-sung over rival Suh Chung-won for the position of Saenuri Party Chairman. “The election of Kim and four other senior party leaders at the Monday convention signals an impending shift in the way the ruling party will work and communicate with the Blue House,” writes Joongang, “which many political observers see as a potential handicap for the presidential office.” Despite Kim’s rhetorical assurances to the contrary, the article indicates that the Park is likely to face a ruling party not entirely supportive of her administration.

Indeed, Kim’s rise is interpreted by some as an indication that Park Geun-hye’s support within the ruling party is quickly diminishing. With a history of opposing Park-supported initiatives, Kim is seen as a political force in his own right. Recognized as the leading politician outside the pro-Park faction, his rise to the top gives some credence to the claim that, only two and half years into her tenure, Park is quickly approaching lame duck status—or worse, has already reached this point. Notably, defeated candidate Suh is considered the “godfather” of the pro-Park faction. A reconfiguration of ruling party-government relations will likely have many consequences going forward. Depending on how strongly Kim and his supporters challenge the Park administration’s policy agenda, everything from foreign affairs legislation (e.g., FTAs) to domestic policies could be denied the Park administration.

Official campaigning for the July 30 by-elections started on July 17. Fifteen national assmebly seats are on the line. Joongang Ilbo’s pre-election breakdown shows that Saenuri is ahead of NPAD in 7 constituencies. They are particularly showing strength in the greater Seoul area (수도권) and the province of Choongchung (충청도). NPAD (새정치민주연합) is showing strength in traditional progressive stronghold in Kwangju area.

This election will be another test on the NPAD’s ability to position itself as a viable alternative to Saenuri Party. Some view this by-election as a mini-general election (미니 총선) election because the political parties can campaign in several districts around the country. Despite this golden opportunity, the NPAD has been criticized for being unable to turn the Park administration’s scandalous confirmation hearings into electoral momentum. If the NPAD fail to meet its supporters’ expectations on July 30, there may be a call for leadership shake-up before heading into 2016 general election.

Korea Real Time reports on a recent lawsuit filed against the South Korean government by hundreds of former “comfort women.” The women accusing the Korean government (and the US) of supervising a prostitution ring for US soldiers. “In a landmark case, more than a hundred women recently filed a lawsuit to a Seoul court seeking compensation from the government,” the article states. “The 122 women say the system… was supervised by the U.S. forces and the South Korean government.” As communicated by Saewoomter, a human rights group representing the women filing the case (there are a total of four groups), the women entered into the prostitution industry unwittingly or entirely against their will. “The women also allege that the South Korean government sanctioned special zones…” and “claim they had to attend government-led disciplinary sessions where they were called ‘patriots’ for serving the country and were told to avoid causing trouble with Americans.” Reuters is also covering the issue of Korean “comfort women” suing their own government.

A potentially explosive issue, no doubt, it remains to be seen what will come of it. The case is just now before the courts—the reason cited by the Ministry of Gender Equality for refusing to comment—and does not seem to have garnered much attention domestically. This could change. As one Rueters article remarks, the timing of the suit is “an embarrassing distraction for the South Korean government, which has pushed Japan to properly atone for what it says were second world war atrocities including forcing women, many of them Korean, to serve as sex slaves for its soldiers.” It is also a sober reminder that, although the state is a community which successfully claims a “monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory,” it often claims a monopoly on illegitimate uses, too.

Going into the Saenuri Party’s national convention, the two candidates vying for the party’s chairmanship continued to spar around the issue of the ruling party’s relationship with President Park. Highlighting how the past Kim Young-sam and Roh Moo-hyun administrations were crippled by clashes with their respective parties, Suh Chung-won advanced his pro-Park credentials as securing the party’s and administration’s ability to govern effectively through President Park’s remaining term. Meanwhile, Kim Moo-sung continued to advance his position that the party must establish checks and balances on the executive. Furthermore, commenting on President Park’s attendance at the convention, Kim noted that it would be inappropriate for the president to interfere in the party’s internal affairs. Despite these antagonisms, Joogang Ilbo noted that being veteran politicians, both Kim and Suh may quickly mend their differences after the leadership contest.

Nonetheless, it is clear from the platforms and attitudes of these two candidates that the result from the national convention will convey a message to the Blue House. Indeed, Suh’s argument has some salience–with the Park administration still struggling to push cabinet nominees through national assembly hearings, Kim’s rise to the party chairmanship may further check the president’s influence over the legislature. At the same time, Kim’s victory will set him up as a favorite to succeed President Park, making it more imperative for the new party chairman to polish and advance the current administration’s legacy for the next presidential election.

The 20th anniversary of the death of Kim Il-sung on July 8 received comparatively broad coverage in the South Korean media beforehand, with the video above from the keenly anti-communist TV Chosun being the most coherent overview of what was likely to happen. The presumption was that events in Pyongyang would be grander than in previous years due to the importance of the anniversary, but in truth commemorating the deaths of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il (December 17) is as much about enforcing internal Workers’ Party discipline as anything else, and in the end the appearance of a visibly limping Kim Jong-un was the most remarked-upon event that took place.

Meanwhile, the front page of Workers’ Party daily publication Rodong Sinmun did not stint on praise for the deceased national founder on the day. Another North Korean publication, Tongil Sinbo followed suit, throwing in a delightful image of Kim reading the first edition of leftist daily Hankyoreh for good measure.

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