Red Scares and History Wars: #Shigak no. 25
“Shigak” (시각), or “perspective” uses Twitter to curate sources dealing in key political, social, and economic issues on South Korea. Each 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 and Christopher Green. Back issues can be found on the dedicated page. All users of Twitter are encouraged to adopt the hashtag and take part in the project.
Red Scares and History Wars: #Shigak no. 25
Summary | The latest issue of #Shigak reports on new developments and top stories in South Korea for September and October. This time around, Park Geun-hye goes to Washington, the number of multicultural families continues to increase, and Moon Jae-in gets labeled a… communist? The political show never ceases to amuse close-watchers of South Korea. Also included in this issue: the history textbook war, Chun Jung-bae’s (potential) new party, and the stateless plight of North Korean-Chinese offspring.
— Yongmin Lee (@YongminLee1) October 15, 2015
South Korean President Park Geun-hye started her second official visit to the United States by laying a wreath at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. On October 15, she visited the Pentagon and met with Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, along with other government officials.
President Park looked to assure the Republic’s longtime ally that the US-ROK alliance is still strong. During her visit to the Pentagon, President Park reaffirmed the “Let’s go together” sentiment of the alliance. On October 14, during “US-Korea Friendship Night,” she gave a speech during which she remarked, “Korea is a partner that United States can trust,” and “the US-ROK alliance is the linchpin of America’s Asia Pacific pivot strategy.” Under her administration, South Korea joined the China-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, which the US does not support. More recently, Park accepted a front-row seat in Beijing for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
— Steven Denney (@StevenDenney86) October 14, 2015
According to the Joongang Ilbo, data released earlier this week from the National Assembly’s Gender Equality and Family Committee shows that the number of multicultural families is on the rise. Currently at 820,000, the number has more than doubled since 2007. The origins of South Korea’s new immigrants have yet to be told; complete census data will be released later this year. (Full population census is done every five years; the data is managed by Statistics Korea.)
Based on previous numbers, it can be assumed that many (if not most) of the new immigrants hail from Northeast China, specifically the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, where many Chinese-Koreans reside. Because of kinship and cultural connections, and the prospect of making money, many Korean-Chinese come to South Korea to work and study. Starting in the earlier 1990s and continuing into the 2000s, Korean-Chinese started coming to South Korea in large numbers to work — illegally at first. Labor and visa reforms in the early 2000s allowed new arrivals to work legally.
One’s origin is important, because in South Korea, like many other countries, there is a racialized hierarchy within society. As a public opinion poll from earlier this year shows, Koreans don’t respond to foreigners in equal ways. Additionally, for those alleging a causal relationship between the influx of immigrants and identity change, origin is likely to be an important factor.
— Christopher Green (@Dest_Pyongyang) October 6, 2015
Go Young-joo, a former public prosecutor and incumbent chairman of the board of the Foundation for Broadcast Culture (FBC), the body that sits between elected government and the management of MBC and is the broadcaster’s majority shareholder, made a raft of inflammatory statements during September and October.
Speaking before a National Assembly committee as part of the legislature’s periodic audit of the activities of the administration, Go, who had already expressed his conviction that opposition NPAD leader Moon Jae-in is a communist, said on October 6 that the late President Roh Moo-hyun was once a communist, and so was the charismatic former governor of Gyeonggi Province and presidential wannabe on the (new) right, Kim Moon-soo.
Go, although he admitted his comments had been unstructured, said he felt no regret. It is perhaps scarcely surprising that, on October 8, three members of the FBC board selected by the NPAD submitted a motion of no confidence in Go’s leadership in line with opposition demands that he resign. Go continues to defy the mounting pressure, even as a proposed amendment to the law on the running of the FBC has been branded the “Go Young-joo Prevention Law.”
— Steven Denney (@StevenDenney86) October 9, 2015
In a move likely to drive a deep wedge into society for some time to come, President Park Geun-hye, with uncertain but sufficient support from the ruling Saenuri Party, is supporting the Ministry of Education’s recommendation to establish a single, state-produced history textbook system.
The recommendation comes after Park ordered the ministry to review the process through which the state oversees middle and high school history textbook writing and publishing. The reason, according to Park: “History education should not divide the citizens and students over political strife and ideological conflicts.”
From 1974 until 2009, South Korea maintained a state-controlled system. The production of history textbooks was only liberalized in 2010, when multiple textbooks were pre-approved by the government and some discretion given to middle and high schools over which textbook they would use. The move toward policy reversal began in 2013, after a history textbook written by so-called “New Right” scholars elicited protest from civic groups and scholars who thought the textbook whitewashed the colonial period and exonerated Park Chung-hee from dictatorial excess.
The move has stoked the ire of both scholars and academics, many of whom have made known their intention to refuse compliance with the ministry’s order to teach a single, state history textbook. Several more have signaled their refusal to participate in the writing of the textbook.
— Steven Denney (@StevenDenney86) September 24, 2015
Hankyoreh tells the story of a stateless teenager, Eunjoo (alias), who lives with her grandmother, Park Hyun-soon (also an alias), a North Korean defector. The grandmother’s oldest daughter married a Korean-Chinese man and gave birth to Eunjoo sometime after defecting to China in 2000. Eunjoo’s mother went missing, after attempting to make the trek from China to South Korea; her father’s whereabouts are also unknown. Park decided, after successfully arriving in South Korea, to retrieve Eunjoo, who was then with a caretaker, and bring her to the South as well.
However, Eunjoo has no official status in South Korea. The immigration authorities have told Park that “under the current law, it is not possible to obtain citizenship since both parents are either dead or missing.” Eunjoo does not have status in China, either. As a Canadian organization promoting the human rights of North Korean defectors, Han Voice, explains, “The Chinese government does not legally recognize [North Korean] mothers as Chinese citizens; accordingly, these children are thereby also denied such legal recognition…. As a result, [they] are provided with no access to medical aid and hospitals, as well as state-run education.”
As the Hankyoreh article notes, a similar situation exists in South Korea. “Eunjoo is unable to go to school. She can’t open a bank account or reserve tickets online for a teen idol concert. When she gets sick, she has to endure the pain—going to a hospital is unthinkable. Eunjoo is an ‘illegal immigrant’ and stateless.”
— Christopher Green (@Dest_Pyongyang) September 20, 2015
Independent National Assembly lawmaker Chun Jung-bae declared in late September that he would launch a new political party in January 2016. Chun, a progressive former Justice Minister with roots in South Jeolla Province who was elected via an April by-election in Gwangju, told a press conference that South Korea is in urgent need of a new political party to transcend the existing ruling-opposition party dichotomy and provide a political option with genuinely “reformist values.” His comments were a stinging critique of the ineffectual reforms of the opposition NPAD. Notably, he said that the party’s current chair, Moon Jae-in, lacks political influence, and that the party itself “has no future.”
It is unclear how Chun’s roadmap for a new party will play out. Speaking over the heads of reporters to some disillusioned progressive political figures, he challenged former presidential candidate Chung Dong-young, ex-North Jeolla Province Governor Pak Jun-young and current NPAD lawmaker Ahn Cheol-soo to show their reformist zeal and get involved in a debate on the future of the South Korean left.
Chun’s integrity and will are not in dispute. He refused to work for the regime of Chun Doo-hwan in the 1980s, and, as a lawmaker under the late President Roh Moo-hyun at the turn of the century he is said to have “saved Roh’s bacon twice.” Equally, followers of South Korean politics will not be in the least bit surprised by the idea that stasis and incompetence in the political establishment can – should? — be overcome by launching a new party to shake up the legislature.