Can South Korea Survive Under President Park Guen-hye?
The geopolitical situation in South Korea has further deteriorated due to President Park Geun-hye’s continuing tendency to govern by the dictates of the latest public opinion polls, putting the nation in a very precarious situation.
Amid mounting tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the deployment of nuclear weapons by North Korea is already seen as a virtual reality. Given this dangerous situation, Ms. Park must focus on tackling two issues—elimination of pro-Pyongyang elements domestically, and thwarting the Chinese influence persistently aimed at Seoul from every direction on the international scene. And yet, Park is pushing her way in the exact opposite direction in pursuit of her domestic and international policies.
On May 22nd, Park accepted the resignations of Nam Jae-joon and Kim Jang-soo, who headed the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the National Security Council (NSC), respectively. Park’s actions make one wonder if she may have fundamentally the same disposition as President Obama, in that she allowed the heads of two of South Korea’s most important government institutions to resign at such a critical time, turning a blind eye to the harsh reality her nation faces.
The infiltration of North Korean influence into the core of Seoul’s judiciary and political systems is unquestionable. Nam and Kim, who both had military backgrounds, constituted the last resort for South Korea’s conservative forces supporting Park. That is exactly why North Korea, China, and pro-Pyongyang forces in the South plotted a well-concerted plan to have the duo ousted.
Nam and Kim were compelled to resign for different reasons, which actually had nothing directly to do with their own responsibilities. In Nam’s case, he was forced to assume responsibility for some fabricated documents the NIA had submitted to the court in connection with a Seoul City official, identified only as “Yoo,” who was arrested on spying charges.
Yoo, charged with having secretly handed over to Pyongyang’s Reconnaissance Bureau information pertaining to some 200 North Korean defectors residing in Seoul, was acquitted on August 22nd for lack of sufficient evidence, although some doubts remained. After the verdict, the NIA reportedly submitted to the court fabricated official Chinese documents which showed that Yoo had clandestinely crossed over the Chinese-South Korean border several times prior to his arrest.
Well-known conservative South Korean commentator Cho Gap-che interprets the incident as follows: It was Chinese Ambassador to Seoul Qiu Guohong and a Chinese collaborator identified only as Kim who blew the incident out of proportion with the ultimate purpose of getting Nam removed as NIA chief.
Reflection of Chinese Enmity
Kim, a Chinese national of Korean ancestry who willingly entered South Korea in order to be questioned by the prosecution, was quoted as saying: “I delivered the forged documents to the National Intelligence Agency, which at the time recognized them as such.” Strangely, after his testimony Kim attempted to take his own life in his hotel room by slashing his neck.
It is obvious that his cooperation with the South Korean prosecution could not have been possible without the approval of the Chinese intelligence agencies. That he attempted suicide immediately after the questioning (his injury was slight and recovery quick) sounds contrived. Cho has been urging the Korean mass media and general public to seriously consider whether it is wise to take the testimony of such a dubious character at its face value. I cannot agree with him more.
On April 14th, the South Korean prosecution published the final report on its investigations into the espionage case, concluding that Nam was in no position to know about the documents. However, South Korea’s opposition parties and mass media weren’t satisfied, their denunciation of Nam having since become even more overheated. A group of conservative journalists even joined the chorus, demanding Nam’s resignation. Behind such moves, one discerns proof of the manipulation of public opinion by Chinese intelligence outfits—a reflection, I am convinced, of China’s profound enmity of Nam, who had resolutely led South Korea’s fight against the communist threat.
Nam has accomplished much in the pursuit of his duties:
1) He is credited with having opposed the planned disbanding of the Republic of Korea-US Combined Forces Command, managing to retain the presence of US forces on the Korean Peninsula by having the plan postponed indefinitely;
2) He was instrumental in exposing a small opposition party—the United Progressive Party (UPP)—leading to the arrest of one of its law makers, Lee Sok-ki; in the event of war with the North, the UPP had plotted to participate in an uprising against the South Korean government.
3) He had intelligence on the purge of Chang Son-taek before of the North Korean Workers’ Party itself was even aware of it.
Point 1) runs directly counter to the North’s ambitions regarding the Korean Peninsula—as I will explain later. Pyongyang must have viewed Points 2) and 3) as intolerable. Naturally, both China and North Korea detested Nam, who had seen things from a broader perspective and managed to meticulously analyze the Korean situation, emphasizing that South Korea must work more closely with the US—not with China—and make every effort to hold the North Korean threat in check. To the extent that only he could accomplish this, Nam was indeed a very special asset for Park and the South Korea government.
It is hard to imagine that Park didn’t understand the importance of Nam or Kim Jang-soo, but in effect she failed to protect them—favoring the whims of public opinion over the longer term strategic interests of her nation. It is precisely because she panders to public opinion that she could so abruptly announce her intention to disband the coast guard while tearfully apologizing to the nation for the recent ferry disaster, in which more than 300 passengers were killed or still unaccounted for.
The lack of an effective diplomatic strategy is also discernible in her inclination to regard close cooperation with both the US and China as the linchpin of her foreign policy. Putting Washington and Beijing on a par with each other and wanting to realize a denuclearization of North Korea by enlisting their support is nothing but mere wishful thinking, as anyone can see. A quick review of the eleven-year history of the six-party talks over North Korea makes it obvious that China in fact has helped promote the North’s nuclear development rather than checking it. As a result, we see right under our noses today a seriously worrisome situation pertaining to the North’s deployment of nuclear weapons.
The World Once Again Splitting Into Two Blocks
Under no circumstances does China want to see the South strengthen its security system or establish military supremacy over the North. While Washington, like Seoul, is aiming at the “denuclearization of North Korea,” Beijing continues to press its demand for the “denuclearization of the entire Korean Peninsula.” Here, one can clearly sense China’s true determination to never allow the South to go nuclear.
When then President Lee Myung-bak visited Beijing in May 2008, the Chinese leadership declared that “the cold-war era military alliance,” i.e., the military alliance between the US and South Korea, “cannot cope with regional security issues.” Maintaining that security on the Korean Peninsula could not be guaranteed as long as Seoul was bound by the US-South Korean military alliance, Beijing in no uncertain terms wants Seoul to sever its alliance with Washington, determined to eliminate American influence on the peninsula.
To allow China to arbitrarily rule over the peninsula under Chinese order—without a US presence—is tantamount to seeing it become China’s vassal state once again. To Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has been maneuvering to drive a wedge between the US and two of its valued Asia-Pacific allies—Japan and South Korea—Park has even sent a laughable compliment that they are on the same wavelength with each other.
Although Ms. Park may cherish an illusion that both the US and China will somehow protect South Korea, she must understand that there is absolutely no chance of Beijing ever cooperating with Seoul by recognizing the US-South Korea alliance. On the contrary, the world is once again being steadily split into two blocks. China, which continues to wrest islands and ocean resources in the South China Sea from Vietnam and the Philippines, is also hungrily reaching for islands claimed by Malaysia. China’s acts of barbarism are a blatant challenge to the international norms of the 21st century, international law, the spirit of democracy, as well as the freedom of mankind. On its side stands Russia, with nations like North Korea, Syria, and Iran following its lead.
Will Park take sides with China, which is trying to take the world back to the days of imperialism, or will she decide to side with the nations—including the US and Japan—that honor international law, democracy, freedom, and human rights? If her nation is to survive, she must by all means make the right choice.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 609 in the June 5, 2014 issue of The Weekly Shincho)