February 13, 2020

Some Afterthoughts on the “Parasite” Success

1) Director Bong Joon-ho (and actor Song Kang-ho who portrays the main character of the film) was one of many artists arbitrarily blacklisted by the former, conservative government of Park Geun-hye for “leftist tendencies.” Yet it is Bong who elevated South Korean cinema to global recognition and fame through his films touching on social themes and realities. The Candlelight Revolution that led to the downfall of the Park government (through impeachment) helped open up creative freedom that led to “Parasite.”
2) The second speaker who unexpectedly (or inappropriately) spoke in length during the Oscar Best Picture acceptance speech was Miky (Mi-kyung) Lee, vice chair of the CJ Entertainment and Merchandising, the investor/distributor of the film. It was inappropriate that she thanked her brother Lee Jae-hyun, the CJ Group chair, who was charged several times and imprisoned for financial crimes. She is granddaughter of Samsung chaebol (congrelemerate) founder Lee Byung-chul. Though her interest in cinema and the arts has helped fund and distribute films like “Parasite” and bring it to international attention, it is ironic that a superrich tycoon who lives lavishly in Beverly Hills is pitching a film about inequality of wealth. Better to have yielded the speaking opportunity to Song Kang-ho who appeared in many of Bong's films.
3) Korea has 100 years of cinema history, with many notable works. The success of "Parasite" is a vindication of long overdue international recognition of the Korean cinema. Hopefully with the impact of “Parasite,” South Korea will produce more films that reflect creative visions of directors and independent filmmakers. More great works are to come, for sure.
[An upcoming South Korean film “Emergency Declaration” deals with the abuses of the KCIA (Korea security/intelligence agency) during the repressive Park Chung-hee (Park Geun-hye's father) regime in the 70s and 80s.]

July 1, 2019

Trump's DMZ Crossing: Just a Photo-op or Opportunity for Progress?

Photo 1: On June 30, 2019, Trump crosses the raised concrete strip representing the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) that divides Korea at Panmunjum (the Joint Security Area in the DMZ/Demilitarized Zone), becoming the first sitting US president to step foot on North Korea.

Photo 2: Kim Jong-un crosses the same line into South Korea (accompanied by South Korea's Moon Jae-in), becoming the first North Korean leader to do so, in April 2018.

Photo 3: South Korean college student Im Soo-kyung (who went to North Korea to participate in the World Youth Festival) crosses the line, at the same location, into South Korea in 1989, becoming the first Korean civilian to willfully cross that line (and not by accident, defection or espionage) since the Korean War ended in an armistice and the creation of the MDL/DMZ in 1953.

Symbolism matters in the DMZ, like the Berlin Wall. That concrete line in the DMZ, a highly recognizable -- and painful to all Koreans -- symbol of prolonged Korean division and the last vestige of the Cold War, is now casually crossed over -- by government/military officials and civilians on inter-Korean meetings or exchanges.

And history was made this past Sunday as Trump crossed the line, symbolically as a "peacemaker" (whatever his motivation may have been) in a business suit and not wearing the usual military attire that US presidents had done when visiting the southern side of the DMZ in the past. [Trump's overall antics aside, his unprecedented summits with Kim and this DMZ crossing showed a way besides the business-as-usual approach.]

But that casual crossing has not been the case always. In 1989, Im Soo-kyung (accompanied by Father Moon Kyu-hyun) risked long imprisonment in South Korea for crossing that line (she received five-year sentence for violating South Korea's draconian and archaic National Security Law), in a brave and unprecedented action to help bring about a breakthrough for peace and reunification of Korea.
With persistent efforts and sacrifices of many civilian activists like Im, the once-impenetrable wall dividing Korea began to crack and led to a series of inter-Korean rapprochement and cooperation towards negotiated settlement for peace in Korea.

Now, the US and North Korea must transcend historical hostilities and animosities (and skepticism of cynics) and translate this historical moment into real progress towards negotiating a lasting peace settlement in the Korean Peninsula.

May 1, 2019

New Documentary: Korea -- The Never-Ending War

This is the most comprehensive and insightful film documentary on the Korean War, covering its origins and its aftermath, with focus not only on the historical and geopolitical perspectives, but on its impact on ordinary civilians (refugees, separated families, the No Gun Ri Incident of massacre of civilians by US soldiers), and the legacy of the “unending war” on current tensions in the peninsula, including the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program.

February 26, 2019

Congressional Resolution Calling for Formal End to Korean War

Reps. Ro Khanna, Barbara Lee and Andy Kim Introduce Resolution Calling for Formal End to Korean War

PRESS RELEASE: February 26, 2019

Washington, DC – As President Trump arrives to Hanoi, Vietnam, Rep. Ro Khanna, along with eighteen Democratic Members of Congress, have introduced a resolution calling for a final settlement of the Korean War, now officially in its 69th year.

The resolution -- which is backed by former President and Nobel Peace Laureate Jimmy Carter and a range of Korean-American and pro-diplomacy organizations -- urges the Trump Administration to provide a clear roadmap to achieve a final peace settlement while highlighting the importance of reciprocal actions and confidence-building measures between the parties.

“Historic engagement between South and North Korea has created a once-in-a-generation opportunity to formally end this war,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “President Trump must not squander this rare chance for peace. He should work hand in hand with our ally, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, to bring the war to a close and advance toward the denuclearization of the peninsula.”

“I commend this important resolution that will help bring this nearly 70 year conflict to a close,” said President Jimmy Carter. “I have visited North Korea several times to talk with their leadership and study the best path forward for peace. Ending the threat of war is the only way to ensure true security for both the Korean and American people and will create the conditions to alleviate the suffering of the ordinary North Koreans who are most harmed by ongoing tensions.”

Co-led by prominent progressive Reps. Andy Kim, Barbara Lee, Pramila Jayapal, Deb Haaland, and Jan Schakowsky, the resolution calls on the Trump Administration to make greater efforts to include women in the peace process, citing the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017 which Trump signed into law. Women’s rights icon Gloria Steinem, founder of the peace group Women Cross DMZ, published an op-ed in the Washington Post on Sunday in support of the resolution.

The resolution clarifies that ending the war does not necessitate a withdrawal of US troops from Korea or an acceptance of North Korea as a legitimate nuclear power. The resolution calls on the Administration to continue the repatriation of servicemember remains, and expand cooperation to achieve reunions of divided Korean and Korean-American families and facilitate people-to-people exchanges and humanitarian cooperation.

Rep. Khanna has been a consistent voice for diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula. Shortly after Trump threatened “fire and fury” against North Korea, Khanna was joined by over 70 Congressmembers on his bipartisan “No Unconstitutional Strike on North Korea Act”, which would reinforce existing law prohibiting an unauthorized and unprovoked strike on North Korea. He has also been critical of those in both parties who have sought to restrict flexibility in negotiations, instead urging support for the diplomatic approach of our South Korean ally and its President, Moon Jae-in.

Rep. Khanna will travel to Atlanta next week to sit down with Pres. Carter to discuss developments on the Korean Peninsula and solicit guidance from the Nobel Laureate about how the next generation of policymakers can best pursue a pro-diplomacy agenda for America.

Current original cosponsors (18): Pramila Jayapal, Mark Pocan, Barbara Lee, Deb Haaland, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Jan Schakowsky, Raúl Grijalva, Bobby Rush, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Tulsi Gabbard, Adriano Espaillat, Andy Kim, Rashida Tlaib, Judy Chu, José Serrano, Gwen Moore

The resolution is endorsed by organizations including the National Association of Korean Americans, Ploughshares Fund, Women Cross DMZ, Korean Americans in Action, United Methodist Church – Global Ministries, Win Without War, Peace Action, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), Just Foreign Policy, Beyond the Bomb, and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

February 25, 2019

From Pyongyang and Washington to Hanoi

The second US-NK summit is taking place -- of all places in the world -- Hanoi, Vietnam, where the US intervened and fought a brutal war, made peace, and then normalized relations. The US fought in Korea too, more than six decades ago, but never made peace with North Korea.

We now have a rare window of opportunity to move forward with a peace settlement in Korea and new relations. A cliche it may be, but let's "Give Peace a Chance."

(Photo courtesy of Nobel Women's Iniative which sent a delegation to Hanoi in support of peace settlement in Korea.)

February 15, 2019

Seoul selected as S. Korean city to co-host 2032 Olympics with North Korea’s Pyongyang

Seoul has been selected as South Korea’s candidate city to bid for the 2032 Summer Olympics jointly with North Korea. On the afternoon of Feb. 11, the city of Seoul announced that it had been selected at a general meeting of Korean Sport and Olympic Committee (KSOC) representatives at the Jincheon National Training Center in North Chungcheong Province as the South Korean city that will bid for the 35th Summer Olympics in 2032. Seoul had been in competition with Busan, but persuaded the representatives to favor it based on its symbolism as South Korea’s leading city, the competitiveness of its urban infrastructure, and its international capacity. READ MORE

South Korea to spend $16 billion in border areas with North Korea for next decade

South Korea's government said on Feb 7 that it will spend 13.2 trillion won (S$15.9 billion) in border areas with North Korea for the next decade. The money, including 5.4 trillion won from the central government, 2.2 trillion won from local governments and 5.6 trillion won from the private sector each, will be spent on 225 projects in inter-Korea border areas by 2030.

The projects were aimed to establish foundation for inter-Korea exchange and cooperation, lay the groundwork for a balanced regional development, stimulate ecological peace tourism in border areas and expand social infrastructure, according to the Ministry of the Interior and Safety. READ MORE