Bush's summit meeting with South Korea

President Bush is scheduled to meet with South Korea's President Roh Moo—hyun today to patch up the cracks that have appeared in the 53+ year—old alliance.

'The future of the alliance may well be at stake,' Charles L. Pritchard, now visiting fellow at the Washington—based Brookings Institution, told an international conference on Korean Peninsula security at the Shilla Hotel in downtown Seoul.

'It is imperative that President Roh and President Bush speak frankly and transparently with one another during the summit,'' he said.

Where these differences of opinion came from is worth investigating. In fact, it's time for the U.S. to seriously re—examine the reasoning for our maintaining troops in South Korea.
 
Roots of Betrayal

Back in 1980, the South Korean 2—star General Chun Doo—hwan seized power  in a military coup and ushered in an oppressive dictatorship. No huge fuss was raised at the time because dictatorships and South Korea had arguably gone hand in hand up until then. But Chun made the repression worse, and did something truly mad: he sent in troops to quash the civil uprising that was protesting his illegal seizure of power. This action became known as the Kwangju Massacre, and from this point on, arguably, the alliance has deteriorated.

Why? Because President Carter wouldn't intervene in the political crisis which became the massacre. Carter's view may have been one of level headed pragmatism (as in 'Let the South Koreans work this out for themselves'), but there have been serious consequences, as America is seen even today as responsible for the abuses of Chun and his military coterie.
 
CNN covered the horrific massacre, and the world saw what happens in a nation where people  deeply fear power, as they have done so for the last thousand years.

Today's hostility of the Korean left toward America really began with Kwangju. The demonstrations against General Chun were led by university students with big ideas about what democracy means and why it was worth fighting for.

As the massacre died down, Chun began to hunt out any who defied his authoritarian rule, forcing thousands to flee South Korea and study in China. This mass exodus, out of fear of reprisals and even execution, fostered a sense of resentment in these young patriotic ideologues — resentment against the U.S. for letting this happen.

After all, in their minds the U.S. created South Korea  and was responsible when it ultimately become a dictatorship. The communist influence that living in exile in welcoming Chinese hands imparted in these victims continues to reverberate through that generation's collective psyche.
 
The Generation that won't forget

Fast forward approximately 20 years and we see their hero Kim Dae—jung (who was imprisoned and even tortured for his beliefs by the militarists) sweep into power in the first real shift away from the right in South Korean history. It's during this presidency that Kim Dae Jung visibly brought the two Koreas together in a summit meeting, and won the Nobel Prize in the process. And it's here that things really started going awry for the alliance. 

The apparent warming between North and South Korea was not the great step forward for dialogue that we've imagined, but rather was in large part a financial transaction.
 
North Korea, a gulag state without any credible industries, needed cash. And Hyundai, the giant chaebol conglomerate, wanted access to any conceivable new opportunities in the North. Hyundai's founder saw himself as the Great Builder of South Korea, and desired to cement his name in history as the great uniter of the Koreas. He had also tried to run for South Korean president but was thwarted.

The Hyundai group pumped over $200,000,000 into North Korea, effectively keeping the dictatorship alive, just so this wondrous summit could occur and Hyundai would be granted access to the vast untapped market in the North.
 
When news of the financial scandal behind the meeting started to filter out, questions began to surface.

'What are we doing there if the South itself is pumping up North Korea?' lamented some U.S. senators. Hyundai's vast resources allowed it to hush up the scandal, and all was soon forgotten, with the exception of the occasional fuming letter written by a Korean War Vet appearing in the odd U.S. newspaper.
 
Fast forward to 2002

South Korea was abuzz as its joint hosting with Japan of the World Cup approached. North Korea, however, was in a real hole. Supporting over 2 million troops in a nation of 20 million, without any real industries to support this incredible military force, was quite a burden. The only way for the North to survive was to blackmail the world for aid by keeping up relentless threats, without triggering a total war.
 
So, on the eve of the opening of the Cup itself, North Korean warships entered South Korean waters with guns blazing, resulting in the deaths of 4 South Korean sailors.

The attack and subsequent battle got very little attention; the overwhelming desire to make the World Cup a success was shared by both government and media in the South. But, at around the same time, an American armored vehicle accidentally ran over 2 girls in the South Korean countryside. The driver couldn't properly see the rural road through the vehicle's armor.

Unlike the North Korean incursion, the South Korean press and students had a field day publicizing this 'outrage.' This is where the fracture in the alliance became a visible crack. Two weeks passed during the Cup playoffs, and, with the exception of young South Koreans hurling constant abuse at the American soccer team, nothing really eventful happened.
 
South Korea placed an incredible 4th in the competition and the streets of Seoul filled with screaming patriotic teens. The tournament ended and then strangely, the screaming teens turned their attention to the 2 dead girls. Korea had shown itself to be a nation of the first water in their own minds, and the South Korean media turned that sentiment into hate—mongering hyperbole.
 
I was working as an actor on Korean television dramas and movies at the time, and what happened during that period was just horrible. The liberal Korean media went on a racist rant, with the government doing very little to ameliorate public sentiment.

I recall going down to KBS (the state broadcaster) to shoot a historical drama, and being forced to view enormous displays of the most vile sensationalism I've ever seen in my life. There were huge photographic blow—up shots of the two girls' brains squashed on that country road placed boldly in the foyer of the government broadcaster's building, just 500 meters away from the National Assembly building (South Korea's parliament).
 
Generalizations are often hazardous, but South Koreans tend to be very wired. The younger generation, still so flushed with exuberance over placing 4th in the World Cup, now spread disinformation with manic energy. Thousands upon thousands of cell phone text messages were sent across South Korea claiming that the driver had 'reversed the tank so that he was sure they were dead' and that he'd even 'deliberately aimed for them.'

This came on top of years of racist and biased news reporting in South Korea. The sort of reporting that fails to see the dozen or so sexual abuse cases that occur every night in South Korea by South Koreans, but which requires front page scrutiny when a U.S. soldier does that on average once every two years in South Korea. Having suffered repression under military dictators allied to America, most of the South Korean press almost instinctively takes an anti—military, anti—American stance.
 
Some South Korean entertainers even went on air to blast the South Korean riot police that were protecting the U.S. Embassy and the Yongsan Garrison at the time, saying such things as 'How can those police dare call themselves Koreans?'

The U.S. gave each of the girls' families $100,000 and the U.S. repeatedly apologized for the accident. Not that the press gave much weight to this gesture of contrition and responsibility.

North Korea gave nothing, not even an apology, for deliberately killing 4 sailors, though.
 
The South Korean Government treated the families of the 4 sailors shabbily. The leftists in charge of South Korea these days are so anti—military that there are whispers that the South Korean military has had trouble in maintaining loyalty in the upper ranks.

South Korea's politics have become even more bitterly divisive than America's. There was an impeachment of Roh Moo—Hyun, Kim Dae—jung's successor as  president, in March last year, with the pro—military party in favor, and the leftist parties emphatically (see the picture) against. There were even whispers about the need for a coup. The following month, voters elected a strong majority for the Pro—Roh Uri Party, and the impeachment was thrown out in May, 2004.

Young South Koreans now vote en masse for the progressives. Older South Koreans vote for the pro—military conservatives. The young vastly outnumber the elderly, though.
 
Roh has carried on a variation of the policies of Kim Dae—jung.  Roh came to power on his image as a human rights lawyer.  I actually worked at President Roh's pet project, the Korean Human Rights Commission for awhile, though when they found out I was working there without a visa, they quietly booted me out. That was rather ironic, but warranted from a legal standpoint, as I'm a Westerner who has somewhere else to go.

The real victims needing human rights help, of course ,are the North Koreans, including defectors or refugees. President Bush has a new favorite book, it seems: The Aquariums of Pyongyang details life in the gulag state, and was written by a defector now living in Seoul. President Roh doesn't like this book. In fact, he doesn't like any North Korean defector speaking on TV or radio in South Korea for fear that it will upset North Korea.
 
That's called appeasement. Of the most abusive dictator on earth. And no amount of blame—placing on the U.S. for episodes in the past can hide the fact. This will be a bone of contention between President Bush and President Roh and it's not something that is going to be easily swept under the carpet. It's a clash of not just perceptions, but of fundamental ideologies.
 
Is South Korea really an ally to the U.S.?
 
South Korea expelled Dr. Norbert Vollertsen for exposing North Korean gulags. He was one of the only Westerners to have ever seen the horrors there first hand, and President Roh didn't like him speaking about that, so South Korea booted him out (visa issues, again) and prevented his work from continuing.

South Korea has announced it will hold defense exercises with China, a swing away from the United States alliance. Now, the U.S. must wonder how much intelligence to share with its ostensible ally. China rakes in billions of dollars annually from South Korean investment, whose major corporations are setting up manufacturing operations there. Economics are pulling South Korea's giant chaebol closer to China.
 
So is China going to let tin pot autocrat Kim Jong—il kill that golden goose? The prospects are about as likely as winning a giant state lottery.
 
China won't let North Korea annex South Korea, and possesses the means to prevent it from doing so. The fuel which powers North Korea enters that country from China. Lately, there has even been some serious condemnation of North Korea coming out of Beijing,  targeting its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The strategic analysts at the Pentagon have it right: China is the key player in the North Korean issue.
 
So if North Korea won't attack South Korea, because China won't let the North destroy its cash flow, why are 32,000 U.S. troops sitting there wasting time, when troops in Iraq can't get leave and can't go home when their tour is over. Does that make sense?
 
Japan pays the U.S. five billion dollars annually to defer ground expenses for stationing roughly 50,000 U.S. troops there. South Korea pays only a pitiful six hundred million dollars annually for 32,000 U.S. troops. No longer a poor country (Hyundai has just opened a mammoth auto manufacturing plant in Alabama), there's no excuse for South Korea to pay so much less.
 
China has been slowly building a military force along the Yalu River, which separates North Korea from China. Perhaps even more significantly, China has been rewriting school history textbooks for the last 3 years to claim that North Korea was once held under a Chinese dynasty. The two Koreas need to wake up to the real strategic threat which faces them. Tough talk in Washington would be a good start.
 
Alex Powell lives in Seoul and has a degree in strategic studies.

President Bush is scheduled to meet with South Korea's President Roh Moo—hyun today to patch up the cracks that have appeared in the 53+ year—old alliance.

'The future of the alliance may well be at stake,' Charles L. Pritchard, now visiting fellow at the Washington—based Brookings Institution, told an international conference on Korean Peninsula security at the Shilla Hotel in downtown Seoul.

'It is imperative that President Roh and President Bush speak frankly and transparently with one another during the summit,'' he said.

Where these differences of opinion came from is worth investigating. In fact, it's time for the U.S. to seriously re—examine the reasoning for our maintaining troops in South Korea.
 
Roots of Betrayal

Back in 1980, the South Korean 2—star General Chun Doo—hwan seized power  in a military coup and ushered in an oppressive dictatorship. No huge fuss was raised at the time because dictatorships and South Korea had arguably gone hand in hand up until then. But Chun made the repression worse, and did something truly mad: he sent in troops to quash the civil uprising that was protesting his illegal seizure of power. This action became known as the Kwangju Massacre, and from this point on, arguably, the alliance has deteriorated.

Why? Because President Carter wouldn't intervene in the political crisis which became the massacre. Carter's view may have been one of level headed pragmatism (as in 'Let the South Koreans work this out for themselves'), but there have been serious consequences, as America is seen even today as responsible for the abuses of Chun and his military coterie.
 
CNN covered the horrific massacre, and the world saw what happens in a nation where people  deeply fear power, as they have done so for the last thousand years.

Today's hostility of the Korean left toward America really began with Kwangju. The demonstrations against General Chun were led by university students with big ideas about what democracy means and why it was worth fighting for.

As the massacre died down, Chun began to hunt out any who defied his authoritarian rule, forcing thousands to flee South Korea and study in China. This mass exodus, out of fear of reprisals and even execution, fostered a sense of resentment in these young patriotic ideologues — resentment against the U.S. for letting this happen.

After all, in their minds the U.S. created South Korea  and was responsible when it ultimately become a dictatorship. The communist influence that living in exile in welcoming Chinese hands imparted in these victims continues to reverberate through that generation's collective psyche.
 
The Generation that won't forget

Fast forward approximately 20 years and we see their hero Kim Dae—jung (who was imprisoned and even tortured for his beliefs by the militarists) sweep into power in the first real shift away from the right in South Korean history. It's during this presidency that Kim Dae Jung visibly brought the two Koreas together in a summit meeting, and won the Nobel Prize in the process. And it's here that things really started going awry for the alliance. 

The apparent warming between North and South Korea was not the great step forward for dialogue that we've imagined, but rather was in large part a financial transaction.
 
North Korea, a gulag state without any credible industries, needed cash. And Hyundai, the giant chaebol conglomerate, wanted access to any conceivable new opportunities in the North. Hyundai's founder saw himself as the Great Builder of South Korea, and desired to cement his name in history as the great uniter of the Koreas. He had also tried to run for South Korean president but was thwarted.

The Hyundai group pumped over $200,000,000 into North Korea, effectively keeping the dictatorship alive, just so this wondrous summit could occur and Hyundai would be granted access to the vast untapped market in the North.
 
When news of the financial scandal behind the meeting started to filter out, questions began to surface.

'What are we doing there if the South itself is pumping up North Korea?' lamented some U.S. senators. Hyundai's vast resources allowed it to hush up the scandal, and all was soon forgotten, with the exception of the occasional fuming letter written by a Korean War Vet appearing in the odd U.S. newspaper.
 
Fast forward to 2002

South Korea was abuzz as its joint hosting with Japan of the World Cup approached. North Korea, however, was in a real hole. Supporting over 2 million troops in a nation of 20 million, without any real industries to support this incredible military force, was quite a burden. The only way for the North to survive was to blackmail the world for aid by keeping up relentless threats, without triggering a total war.
 
So, on the eve of the opening of the Cup itself, North Korean warships entered South Korean waters with guns blazing, resulting in the deaths of 4 South Korean sailors.

The attack and subsequent battle got very little attention; the overwhelming desire to make the World Cup a success was shared by both government and media in the South. But, at around the same time, an American armored vehicle accidentally ran over 2 girls in the South Korean countryside. The driver couldn't properly see the rural road through the vehicle's armor.

Unlike the North Korean incursion, the South Korean press and students had a field day publicizing this 'outrage.' This is where the fracture in the alliance became a visible crack. Two weeks passed during the Cup playoffs, and, with the exception of young South Koreans hurling constant abuse at the American soccer team, nothing really eventful happened.
 
South Korea placed an incredible 4th in the competition and the streets of Seoul filled with screaming patriotic teens. The tournament ended and then strangely, the screaming teens turned their attention to the 2 dead girls. Korea had shown itself to be a nation of the first water in their own minds, and the South Korean media turned that sentiment into hate—mongering hyperbole.
 
I was working as an actor on Korean television dramas and movies at the time, and what happened during that period was just horrible. The liberal Korean media went on a racist rant, with the government doing very little to ameliorate public sentiment.

I recall going down to KBS (the state broadcaster) to shoot a historical drama, and being forced to view enormous displays of the most vile sensationalism I've ever seen in my life. There were huge photographic blow—up shots of the two girls' brains squashed on that country road placed boldly in the foyer of the government broadcaster's building, just 500 meters away from the National Assembly building (South Korea's parliament).
 
Generalizations are often hazardous, but South Koreans tend to be very wired. The younger generation, still so flushed with exuberance over placing 4th in the World Cup, now spread disinformation with manic energy. Thousands upon thousands of cell phone text messages were sent across South Korea claiming that the driver had 'reversed the tank so that he was sure they were dead' and that he'd even 'deliberately aimed for them.'

This came on top of years of racist and biased news reporting in South Korea. The sort of reporting that fails to see the dozen or so sexual abuse cases that occur every night in South Korea by South Koreans, but which requires front page scrutiny when a U.S. soldier does that on average once every two years in South Korea. Having suffered repression under military dictators allied to America, most of the South Korean press almost instinctively takes an anti—military, anti—American stance.
 
Some South Korean entertainers even went on air to blast the South Korean riot police that were protecting the U.S. Embassy and the Yongsan Garrison at the time, saying such things as 'How can those police dare call themselves Koreans?'

The U.S. gave each of the girls' families $100,000 and the U.S. repeatedly apologized for the accident. Not that the press gave much weight to this gesture of contrition and responsibility.

North Korea gave nothing, not even an apology, for deliberately killing 4 sailors, though.
 
The South Korean Government treated the families of the 4 sailors shabbily. The leftists in charge of South Korea these days are so anti—military that there are whispers that the South Korean military has had trouble in maintaining loyalty in the upper ranks.

South Korea's politics have become even more bitterly divisive than America's. There was an impeachment of Roh Moo—Hyun, Kim Dae—jung's successor as  president, in March last year, with the pro—military party in favor, and the leftist parties emphatically (see the picture) against. There were even whispers about the need for a coup. The following month, voters elected a strong majority for the Pro—Roh Uri Party, and the impeachment was thrown out in May, 2004.

Young South Koreans now vote en masse for the progressives. Older South Koreans vote for the pro—military conservatives. The young vastly outnumber the elderly, though.
 
Roh has carried on a variation of the policies of Kim Dae—jung.  Roh came to power on his image as a human rights lawyer.  I actually worked at President Roh's pet project, the Korean Human Rights Commission for awhile, though when they found out I was working there without a visa, they quietly booted me out. That was rather ironic, but warranted from a legal standpoint, as I'm a Westerner who has somewhere else to go.

The real victims needing human rights help, of course ,are the North Koreans, including defectors or refugees. President Bush has a new favorite book, it seems: The Aquariums of Pyongyang details life in the gulag state, and was written by a defector now living in Seoul. President Roh doesn't like this book. In fact, he doesn't like any North Korean defector speaking on TV or radio in South Korea for fear that it will upset North Korea.
 
That's called appeasement. Of the most abusive dictator on earth. And no amount of blame—placing on the U.S. for episodes in the past can hide the fact. This will be a bone of contention between President Bush and President Roh and it's not something that is going to be easily swept under the carpet. It's a clash of not just perceptions, but of fundamental ideologies.
 
Is South Korea really an ally to the U.S.?
 
South Korea expelled Dr. Norbert Vollertsen for exposing North Korean gulags. He was one of the only Westerners to have ever seen the horrors there first hand, and President Roh didn't like him speaking about that, so South Korea booted him out (visa issues, again) and prevented his work from continuing.

South Korea has announced it will hold defense exercises with China, a swing away from the United States alliance. Now, the U.S. must wonder how much intelligence to share with its ostensible ally. China rakes in billions of dollars annually from South Korean investment, whose major corporations are setting up manufacturing operations there. Economics are pulling South Korea's giant chaebol closer to China.
 
So is China going to let tin pot autocrat Kim Jong—il kill that golden goose? The prospects are about as likely as winning a giant state lottery.
 
China won't let North Korea annex South Korea, and possesses the means to prevent it from doing so. The fuel which powers North Korea enters that country from China. Lately, there has even been some serious condemnation of North Korea coming out of Beijing,  targeting its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The strategic analysts at the Pentagon have it right: China is the key player in the North Korean issue.
 
So if North Korea won't attack South Korea, because China won't let the North destroy its cash flow, why are 32,000 U.S. troops sitting there wasting time, when troops in Iraq can't get leave and can't go home when their tour is over. Does that make sense?
 
Japan pays the U.S. five billion dollars annually to defer ground expenses for stationing roughly 50,000 U.S. troops there. South Korea pays only a pitiful six hundred million dollars annually for 32,000 U.S. troops. No longer a poor country (Hyundai has just opened a mammoth auto manufacturing plant in Alabama), there's no excuse for South Korea to pay so much less.
 
China has been slowly building a military force along the Yalu River, which separates North Korea from China. Perhaps even more significantly, China has been rewriting school history textbooks for the last 3 years to claim that North Korea was once held under a Chinese dynasty. The two Koreas need to wake up to the real strategic threat which faces them. Tough talk in Washington would be a good start.
 
Alex Powell lives in Seoul and has a degree in strategic studies.