WILL MASS RALLIES BY SOUTH KOREAN CONSERVATIVES TRIGGER MOON JAE-IN’S OUSTER?
In a more peaceful year, all South Koreans would have celebrated their October 3 National Foundation Day (Gaecheonjeol) together as one family. On this day in 2333 BC, Dangun Wanggeom, the legendary god-king, was inaugurated as the first king of ancient Korea, as myth has it. But this year, angry conservative demonstrators packed the streets of central Seoul, protesting the administration of President Moon Jae-in.
Professor Tsutomu Nishioka, a leading Japanese expert on Korean affairs who serves as a research fellow at the Japan Institute of National Fundamentals (JINF), a privately funded Tokyo think tank that I head, stated that the turnout was estimated at approximately a half million. Nishioka, who spoke as a guest on my regular weekly “Genron” Internet news show last Friday, explained that the number was reliable as it was based on a “surface area measuring system” employed by South Korean experts.
Sponsors of demonstrations often publish exaggerated numbers of participants, but Nishioka stressed that the number he cited was no exaggeration, mentioning that it was phenomenal that as many as 500,000 South Koreans took part in any demonstration organized by conservative forces. He continued:
“On March 1, 2017, conservative forces in South Korea held a rally in central Seoul protesting the impeachment of President Lee Geun-hye, with some 300,000 demonstrators packing the main thoroughfare from Gwanghwammun Gate to Seoul City Hall to Namdaemun Gate. The turnout was calculated on the same measurement system as this time. Given that the rally extended further from Namdaemun Gate to Seoul Station over more than a half mile, the number of the October 3 turnout would seem credible.”
In other words, a far greater number of conservative citizens took to the streets on October 3 than seven months ago, on March 1. Meanwhile, veteran Seoul correspondent Katsuhiro Kuroda of the conservative Sankei Shimbun reported that the recent demonstration organized by conservative forces attracted far more participants than any of the “candle light” left-wing demonstrations that brought down President Lee Geun-hye.
There are more anti-Moon demonstrators now than turned out from the left or the right two years ago. Explained journalist Hong Hyung, another guest of my news show who once served as minister at the South Korean embassy in Tokyo:
“The sponsors and organizers of the October 3 rally were varied. Present were Christian pastors, editors and reporters representing the media including YouTube, university professors, and lawyers and accountants who once worked closely with the Moon administration. All of them demanded Justice Minister Cho Kuk’s resignation, intensifying their criticism of Moon.”
The October 3 demonstration by the conservative camp could be a sign of belated but significant budding changes in Korean public opinion. Many ordinary citizens were present. Due perhaps to the drawing power churches have in and around Seoul, there was also no small number of young men and women, including housewives.
North Korean Escapees Joined Demonstrators
Hong Kong is believed to be a major force motivating South Koreans into action, observed Hong. He pointed out that South Koreans have been made to come to their senses by the mettle of the 7.5 million Hong Kongers grappling squarely with China and its 1.4 billion people rigidly controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Before witnessing Hong Kong’s plight, the world saw the CCP deprive citizens everywhere across China of their freedom. Religious oppression is particularly harsh, with even Christians subject to relentless persecution.
But both Moon and Cho are insensitive to the sense of crisis many thinking South Koreans have about the possible control of the South Korean people by the CCP. What is more, the duo are ruthlessly speeding along the road to a socialist revolution in the South, as if to ingratiate themselves to Beijing. The average citizen in South Korea has finally begun to develop a critical feeling about continuing to turn to them for credible national governance. The October 3 demonstration in Seoul is the first visible sign of such a concern on the part of ordinary citizens.
South Korean Marine Corp reserve officers, participating in the rally with shaven heads, attracted as much attention as Christian demonstrators. Observed Hong:
“The reservists shaved their heads in a show of their disapproval of the Moon administration. I am sure they must have been quite conspicuous, being a group of well-built, tough-looking young men with their heads shaven.”
More than 10,000 university professors joined the demonstration, signing a remonstrance against Moon that called for “justice and truth.”
Young YouTubers on site protested against major South Korean media outlets. As Nishioka explained:
“KBS, one of Korea’s main television stations, was on the spot to ostensively cover the demonstration. Major tv stations have become so left-leaning they refuse to even recognize the presence of conservative forces, let alone cover their words and deeds. So young YouTubers pasted on one of the windows of a KBS broadcasting vehicle a placard which said succinctly: ‘Report the truth!’ There was no violence…no vandalism, but I believe the placard was a powerful message to the reporters and editors of KBS.”
Although it was one of the most massive demonstrations in recent Korean history, the October 3 march resulted in no violence, unlike Hong Kong, because each organizer or sponsor had strictly banned violent acts. They had also warned the demonstrators against carrying anything that could be misconstrued as a weapon and urged them not to bring umbrellas, although reminding them to take raincoats with them as a typhoon was approaching. They had feared that the umbrellas might be seen as weapons.
“They also circulated a notice encouraging those physically fit to demonstrate through the night and join a sit-in in front of the Blue House in the morning. The demonstrators were also instructed to bring along their own sleeping bags and some food.”
On the night of October 3, more than 1,000 people joined a sit-down strike in front of the Blue House under the guidance of a pastor named Chun Gwang-hoon who had conducted a lone sit-in since June. The sit-in continued through the weekend, with many North Korea escapees joining. They had put themselves on the line, fleeing a country which fails to treat its citizens with dignity and respect. But they see South Korea as falling into line with the North. They can never forgive that.
Hong stressed that a variety of Koreans presumably with no previous involvement in political movements took to the streets because they saw Moon’s acts as having “exceeded a critical range.”
“Anti-Japanism”: Emotional Prop of Liberal South Koreans
How should one interpret the fact that “gentle middle-class adults” have been spurred into action? The situation in South Korea today is clearly different from some time ago. I suspect that Moon and Cho are desperately holding their breaths, dreading a dramatic turnabout that may be in the offing. Cho—mired in a scandal involving his daughter’s questionable college entrance, financial irregularities on the part of his college professor wife, and an alleged plagiarism having to do with a thesis for his own master’s degree in 1989—is a Leninist who believes in violent revolutions. If Moon should fire Cho, his approval rating would improve, but he most likely will not take that action. If he should take a step back now, Moon knows his dream of a socialist revolution in South Korea will collapse.
Moon’s approval rating has sagged significantly in recent weeks, but at this juncture he still has nearly 40% support. My guests cited two main reasons for this, one of which was explained by Hong:
“Coming to one’s senses from blind faith in communism is closely linked to one’s ability to think for himself. The leftists supporting Moon are so grossly blinded by their faith in communism that it is practically impossible for them to see reality with their own eyes and think on their own.”
Nishioka stated the second reason with passion, explaining that those who are dedicated to Kim Il-sung’s “juche” (“self-reliance”) ideology are still active in South Korea not because of the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary theory but because they are persistently committed to a deep-rooted “anti-Japanese nationalism.”
In their thinking, Nishioka explained, Kim Il-sung was “a great leader” because he had “fought Japan,” while mainstream South Koreans made the mistake of collaborating with a “savage Japan.” The pro-Japanese faction then turned pro-American and ruled South Korea in collaboration with anti-communist forces. The decline of socialism and communism in the rest of the world does not affect the thinking of these people. For them, a resurgence of South Korea becomes possible only if pro-Japanese forces are defeated. Things are alright as long as they can keep condemning Japan for everything bad that has happened to their nation. As long as “anti-Japanism” remains their emotional prop, observed Nishioka, they will likely survive even if socialism or communism become obsolete.
This being the case, we Japanese must make earnest efforts to help rectify misconceived anti-Japanism in South Korea—a fact the nation’s conservatives are belatedly beginning to come to grips with. Their awareness is reflected in the phenomenal success of the book Anti-Japanese Tribalism: Korean Racial Nationalism Thread by a group of six Korean scholars, including Honorary Professor Lee Yong-hon of Seoul National University and his younger economist colleague Lee U-yeon. Their analysis of the Japanese colonial rule of Korea (1910-1945) and its consequences is rational and convincing. I believe that collaborating with the authors and their growing supporters is the right way for Japan to proceed in seeking mutually rewarding bilateral relations with South Korea. (The End)
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 872 in the October 17, 2019 issue of The Weekly Shincho)