May 28, 2015

Marching Towards Peace In Korea


By Tim Shorrock in PoliticoMagazine 

On Sunday [May 24, 2015], Gloria Steinem, looking radiant but tired in a white dress traditionally worn by Korean women, walked into a room packed with reporters and photographers at the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine building in Paju, South Korea, just a mile from the North Korean border.

Gathered around the American feminist icon were 30 women from 15 countries who had just accomplished what only two foreign groups had ever done before—cross the demilitarized zone dividing the communist North from the capitalist South. They were greeted in the south by hundreds of women and peace and unification activists from a country long divided by war and 60 years of tension.  Read more:

May 15, 2015

Korean Atomic Bomb Victims



    Not many know that more than one seventh of WW II atomic bomb victims were Korean colonial subjects, most of whom were forced workers in Japanese military factories during the war. Korean "hibakusha" (atomic bombing survivor) were the forgotten people -- not compensated by the Japanese government when Japanese A-bomb victims were compensated, and neglected by the Korean government, as they were not included in the reparations that Japan gave to South Korea when the two countries normalized relations.  They are forgotten victims of colonialism and war like the military sex slaves ("comfort women"). 

Tourism in North Korea


[From KoreAm, by Mark Edward Harris]

Several years ago, Andrea Lee traded a desk job as a corporate attorney in New York City to head Uri Tours, a New Jersey-based travel company founded by her family a decade ago, which organizes tours to North Korea. As its CEO and occasional tour leader, the 33-year-old Lee helps curious individuals see what life is like north of the 38th parallel on the divided Korean peninsula.
Although widely perceived as a sealed-off nation closed to foreign tourists, North Korea permits group and even private travel by citizens of any country other than South Korea who book through a tourism partner-provider. While the U.S. Department of State strongly recommends against travel by U.S. citizens to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the country is officially known, there appears to be no adverse impact on Uri’s business. READ MORE

March 14, 2015

Female peace activists say they’ll walk across the DMZ


From The Hankyoreh Newspaper in Seoul, Korea: http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/682155.html

Eyes are on Korea after a group of well-known female peace activists announced they will walk across the DMZ on May 24 for peace on the peninsula. The event suggests that women around the world are becoming more involved in the Korean Peninsula, which remains trapped in the Cold War even 70 years after the end of World War II.
In its coverage of the press conference for the event, which was held at the UN headquarters in New York on Mar. 11, the Associated Press said that “prominent women” were “making a dramatic statement in Korean relations.”
Along with two recipients of the Nobel peace prize - Mairead Maguire and Leymah Gbowee - women from a variety of backgrounds will be joining in the walk, including writers, scholars, filmmakers, and humanitarian activists. Most of the 30 participants, who hail from 12 countries, will be paying their travel expenses out of pocket.
Gloria Steinem, 81, regarded as an icon of the women’s movement in the US, drew attention by signing on as honorary co-chair of the event.
Steinem, who played a leading role in the feminist movement in the US in the 1960s and 1970s and was active in social issues and the peace movement after that, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, the greatest honor that the US President can bestow on a private individual.
Steinem has taken great interest in the event, as her attendance at the press conference suggests. “It’s hard to imagine a more physical symbol of the insanity of dividing human beings than this zone. To me, to walk across it, has huge, huge, huge importance,” Agence France-Presse quoted her as saying.
Steinem’s deep interest in Korean Peninsula issues reportedly goes back to the sad story of a high school friend who was received a draft notice to fight in the Korean War.
“The friend’s father had suffered from trauma in the Second World War, and when he saw his son’s draft notice, he decided he couldn’t allow him to go to war,” explained Chung Hyun-kyung, a professor at New York’s Union Theological Seminary and member of the event’s executive committee. “So he killed his son and then himself.”
“Steinem noted that women had made a big contribution to ending conflict in Northern Ireland and Liberia, and she asked why that wouldn’t work on the Korean Peninsula too,” Chung added.
Abigail Disney, granddaughter of Walt, began making movies after meeting the Liberian female peace activist Leymah Gbowee in 2006. In 2008, she shared the story of the country’s peace movement with “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” a documentary about Gbowee.
Other participants included Medea Benjamin, co-founded of the leading women’s anti-war group Code Pink, and Ann Wright, a former US Army colonel who resigned from the State Department in 2003 in protest of the Iraq War.
Among the Korean and Korean-American participants joining them were Rutgers University professor Suzy Kim, Korea Policy Institute co-founder Christine Ahn, Chung, and women’s rights activist Kim Ban-a.
Foreign nationals don’t need approval from the South Korean government to visit North Korea, but they would need to apply with the UN Command to pass through the DMZ. Foreign nationals traveling between North and South Korea must pass through South Korean government immigration procedures.
“If we are provided with specific plans, including their course while traveling in North Korea, then it’s a matter for discussion with the relevant agency,” a Unification Ministry official explained.

February 13, 2015

"Would Park be President, had the election not been rigged?"


President Park Geun-hye of South Korea is facing political troubles and unpopularity, due to her leadership style, squabbles in her inner circle, suppression of dissent and free expression, and the recent court ruling that the government agency interfered in the last election which elected her president. The photo above shows posters critical of Park that surfaced in Pusan, a southern city with strong conservative constituents. 

The following is an editorial in the Hankyoreh Newspaper, Seoul, Korea.

Would Park be President, had the election not been rigged?

An appeals court’s ruling about election interference by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) provides judicial confirmation that there is a major problem with Park Geun-hye legitimacy as president of South Korea. This makes it clear that the 2012 presidential election was a rigged game and that Park was the greatest beneficiary.

Despite this, the Blue House is remaining tight-lipped about the entire affair. Facing a barrage of questions by reporters on Feb. 10, Blue House spokesperson Min Kyung-wook declined to comment, only remarking that even a spokesperson has the right to remain silent.

One can conjecture the extent of the Blue House’s shock and consternation. It’s no wonder that Park is getting a big headache, with the legitimacy of her presidency in question at the same time her approval rating is plummeting.

Even so, Park cannot resolve her current predicament by ignoring and refusing to talk about it. The very assumption that the Blue House has the “right to remain silent” is a serious blunder.
Any politician - not to mention the leader of a country - must take responsibility for his or her words. Park should begin by apologizing for remarks she has made, such as when she belittled the case as a plot by the political opposition and denied that she had received any help from the NIS.
But Park’s remarks are not the only mistake that she made. The current administration pulled out all the stops to cover up the NIS‘s assault on the constitution and to block all attempts to investigate that assault.

The figures who confidently stated that Won Sei-hoon was not guilty of violating the Public Official Election Act are still in their positions in the government. Clearly, the next step should be to discipline the people who obstructed this investigation, starting from Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn.

It will also be necessary to continue the investigation of the NIS’s interference in politics. Even former president Lee Myung-bak may have to be questioned, if that is what it takes to determine where Won Sei-hoon was getting his orders.

The fact is that when this scandal came to light, Park’s course was laid out for her. She ought to have come before the public humbly to acknowledge the flaws in the election process. As a president whose election undermined the democratic system, Park ought to have dedicated herself to treasuring and nourishing that democratic system. If she had done that, people might have seen her as having become an even better president, precisely because of the concerns about her legitimacy.
But Park instead went in the opposite direction, and now she finds herself in a real bind. This is when things get interesting. If Park cannot shake off her deluded sense of self-importance, she will find herself sinking deeper and deeper into quicksand. Park should tremble to think that, when weighed in the balance of history, the verdict may be that she was a terrible president who would not even have been elected if the election had not been rigged.  

February 12, 2015

A Debate on U.S. Strategy Towards North Korea


"Testing Intentions: A Debate about US Strategy Towards North Korea," an event sponsored by the National Committee on North Korea, took place at the US Congress building on February 11, 2014, debating whether the U.S. should or should not consider recent North Korea's proposal to begin a moratorium on its nuclear weapon testings if the U.S. and South Korea cancel planned joint military exercises in South Korea.

The "debaters" were Robert Carlin, Visiting Scholar at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation; and Bruce Klingner, Senior Research Fellow for Asia at The Heritage Foundation. Both are seasoned Korea experts, with backgrounds in the CIA, the State Department and the Defense Department.

Carlin argued in favor of consideration and engagement with North Korea, as time is running out and North Korea will end up with more and more nuclear weapon arsenal if the current status of stalled negotiations continue. He went further in saying that perhaps it is now a time to recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapon state and negotiate accordingly, as time was lost on resolving North Korea's nuclear weapon development issue. And North Korea is not likely to give up the nuclear card during negotiations for wider peninsula and regional security negotiations. 

Klingner repeated current U.S. stances and reiterated the focus on dismantling of North Korea's nuclear weapon capabilities as a prerequisite for any progress, and opposed considering North Korea's recent proposal as it will legitimize North Korea's nuclear weapon development program. 

Most discussants agreed that the the Obama administration's policy towards North Korea is lacking focus and is in disarray, that concrete steps and actions are needed to amend the deteriorating situation. 

February 11, 2015

2015: A Watershed Year for the Korean Peninsula?