Thursday, 12 June 2008

Protests in Seoul - it ain't just about the beef

Whoa, all this talk about the US beef import protest in Seoul has me curious. Not one who'd usually follow politics, I couldn't help but dig up more information on the issue.

So here's what I understand of the situation after perusing articles from The Chronicle Journal and this excellent piece by Choe Sang-hun of the International Herald Tribune.

More than that: It isn't just about the beef

The foundation: Nationalism or anti-Americanism?
  • A very thin line separates the two.
  • Back in 2002, two teenage girls were killed by a US military armoured vehicle. Many young Koreans, who feel humiliated by the US military presence, rallied in protest.
  • Roh Moo-hyun rode the nationalist wave then to election victory and pledged never to "kowtow to the Americans."
Roh Moo-hyung: 'I will never kowtow to the Americans.'
  • During Roh's term as President, the South Korea - US alliance was strained. South Koreans grew tired of Roh's ideological pronouncements so they gave a landslide victory to Lee Myung-bak during the recent election.
  • President Lee Myung-bak promised, among other things, to mend ties with Washington.
The new President: Lee Myung-bak
  • Elected Dec 2007 and was hailed as a long-awaited leader who could salvage South Korea's alliance with the US.
  • President Lee's predecessor was the left-leaning Roh Moo-hyun who famously declared that he would never become "a Korean leader kowtowing to the Americans."
  • After 6 months in office, President Lee is being vilified by his people for being what his predecessor vowed never to be.
What a laugh: US President George Bush and South Korean
President Lee Myung-bak share a golf buggy at Camp David. - AP Photo

  • On April 19, President Lee became the 1st South Korean leader invited to Camp David - the US presidential retreat - for a meeting with President George W. Bush. Leaders like Roh would never have been invited.
The issue
  • On the eve of the meeting with Bush, Seoul agreed to lift 5-year-old band on American beef imports - a demonstration of Lee's eagerness to rebuild ties with Washington.
Protest: South Koreans take to the streets
  • The sh*t hit the fan back home in South Korea. The demonstrations became so huge that Lee's entire cabinet offered to resign. Lee's office did not say whether the President would accept the resignations.
  • Beef dispute is not entirely about health, science or economics - US beef is half the price of Korean beef. It's a test of whether the leaders can resist pressure from superpowers like the United States.
The protest
  • South Korea's largest anti-government protest in 20 years (since the pro-democracy demonstrations back in 1987. Ironically, the June 10 rally coincided with the anniversary of the protests in 1987.)
Grim reminder: Is this 1987 all over again?
  • Police built barricades out of shipping containers, coated them with oil and filled them with sandbags to prevent protesters from reaching President Lee Myung-bak's Blue House.
  • Protesters put up leaflets on the barrier. It read: "This is a new border for our country. From here starts the US state of South Korea."
Dwindling popularity: Can President Lee Myung-bak win back
the trust and confidence of his people after this?

  • President Lee Myung-bak is being likened to Lee Wan-yong, the infamous turn-of-the-century royal minister who sold his country out to Japan, in other words - National Traitor No.1.
After this little simple research, I think I've got a clearer picture of what the beef protest is all about. In this case, it's all about the politics. Uh-huh, it sure ain't about the beef alone.

Beef protest continues with largest candlelight demonstration yet
South Koreans protest US beef imports


Orchid said...

Liz, thanks for the research and summary. So the beef is a small part. But President Lee Myung-bak was just elected by the people and given a landslide victory. Plus they knew he would mend ties with Washington. So why are they protesting now?

daisyjane said...

So it isn't about beef or MAD cow disease after all....

Liz said...

@daisyjane I guess that's just the tip of the iceberg.

@orchid. I think the people don't agree with the method President Lee is using in "mending ties" with Washington. I think they feel he is a sell out.

Anonymous said...

thanks fr sharing!


Anonymous said...

I remember before this guy was elected that he was a big kiss ass to George Bush. They got what they asked for and now they're surprised he's acting the way he always had intended? He just never had the power to make these decisions before. I remember the day he was elected thinking to myself "Korea is gonna regret this"
Roh, was trying to balance a lot. He was walking a tight rope of staying on the US's good side (and we know the current administration takes names yet doesn't take any criticism well) and not inflame the region further and make a disasterous setback in North/South Korea relations.
I think he did the best with the crappy rock and a hard place south korea is constantly put in many thanks to the government of my country. I can understand anti-american frustrations in south korea. But if these are so prevalent, as evident with these protests, why elect another washington puppet?
I'll never understand. And besides that, they should protest what is really bothering them not just some beef facade which at face value diminishes their cause.

Gail T. said...

things are never what they seem...

thanks for the research and summary.

Anonymous said...

...this seems like this is a good example of getting exactly what you wished for w/ unexpected results.

I think liz hit it on the head with: "I think the people don't agree with the method President Lee is using in "mending ties" with Washington. I think they feel he is a sell out."

There's a fine line between compromise and being a doormat and I suppose Koreans feel Lee has crossed it all too quickly. It's tricky business and while I actually think this US-Korea beef ban lift is a good thing - there's no question Lee should've been more sensitive with handling own country for god's sake. He seems to have very little tact with the common people - always am ingredient for stirring up civil unrest.

noV said...

ohh, i saw this on KBS World yesterday...

Nozomi said...

Thanks for making the situation clearer, i have a better understanding of what's going on.

But it would make more sense to protest the real reason.

Anonymous said...

anybody here who also feels that the US govt should stop ruining the world? what's the next country did they say they want to go into war with, again?

Anonymous said...

thank you!! <33

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the short yet detailed explanation! Have been wondering what is this all about, there were a few blogs talking about this but it was so long so i wasn't bothered to read! Thanks Liz once again for the story behind this protest! ^^

Brian said...

agree, with clquek. This post has been very informative. It's concise and to the point. Thank you Liz! Thank you K-popped!

Anonymous said...

While it may have been true in the past, the average South Korean is not anti-American: quite the contrary. I moved here to South Korea a few years ago to teach. I was a little wary at first, having heard stories about anti-American sentiment, but I have found just the opposite to be true. I have been stopped on the street (I ahve blue eyes and blond hair, so I don';t exactly blend in here), and when I say I am American and that my father fought in the Korean War, I have been thanked and told my father was a hero! While there is a lot of anti-Japanese feelings, South Koreans do not hate Americans!

As for the Mad-Cow protests, there is a lot more to the protests than the beef. I live in Korea and teach English at a Hagwan, or after school program. 90% of students here in Korea go to at least one Hagwon (I have one student who goes to 4!) at an average monthly cost of about $150 per Hagwon per child. Many families are beginning to resent the costs that these programs entail, even thought they feel that it is necessary for their children to learn English to succeed.

There is also a strong movement here from the farmers to prevent imports, who now sell beef at about 4 times the price that we buy for in the US: they simply do not want the competition! They use the situation in North Korea to whip up feelings that they should not allow themselves to become dependent on outside sources for food.

Most of my students, when asked about the protests, laugh and say that it is just a political thing. The average citizen still likes Americans, and I have been make to feel nothing but welcome here! Also, the busiest store in town is CostCo, where you can see hundreds of Korean families buying beef from the American chain store. When asked about health risks, people are much more worried about hepatitis, which is rampant here from problems with the water supply and their communal meals.

Jennifer said...

^---- WoW, they sure do pay a lot to learn English.

Thanks Liz for the summary! It totally put things in perspective as to what is really going on in S. Korea.

Anonymous said...

gosh, i am sorry... but K-popped, you got it ALL wrong... Partially it could be true for some people, but let me tell you MOST Koreans are actually pro-Americans more than anything.

THE TRUTH reasons why Koreans are against US BEEF:

S.Korean people are not protesting the import of US beef itself. S.Korea has imported US beef since 1998. What caused the people to hold candlelight is that the S.Korean president promised to import US beef with "no age limit" including specified risk material(SRM). Koreans are protesting because according to the trade agreement FDA, materials from cattle over 30months old could be imported to Korea, which according to FDA will be banned even for dogs&cats food.

Korean people are insisting peaceful rallies against Lee government's decision to import US beef more than 30-months old and its bones. The beef that is older than 30-months is legally forbidden in America because of its greater risk of mad cow disease and other critical diseases. President Lee's decision shows that he has no will to protect Korean people's basic human rights to health to access safe food. He secretly met NCBA President Andy Groseta, and promised to resume beef imports even before he signed the agreement.

Korean People also protest against Lee government's antidemocratic, unethical and even illegal behaviors. People are insisting peaceful rallies against Lee, but he ordered the police to arrest the people violently by illegally using water cannons, billies and poisonous sprays. The protesters who joined the rally with only candles and pickets have been critically injured, and they are preparing for the lawsuit against Lee.

CNN sometimes describes the candle-lit rallies in South Korea as a phenomenon of the public hysteria caused by the fear of mad cow disease, but it is far from the truth.

Anonymous said...

American and British news reporters keep LEAVING OUT the CORE essence of WHY Koreans are protesting...

And some Americans are saying "what's wrong with US beef? we never get mad cow disease". But what Americans aren't informed from the news is that what Koreans are going to eat is NOT the same meat that Americans eat. Americans eat beef that are 20 months old or less, but Koreans are going to get beef that are 30 months and older! More importantly, according to the trade law, there's NO limit to the meat age! It could be 30-40months old or even more! and US FDA said 35 months old beef are hazardous even for pet's food.

Would you want to eat such meat? Your children? your parents? Koreans eat beef like Americans eat chicken. Beef is essential diet for Koreans for centuries.

You can play around with other goods/things for trade deal, but you DONT play around with FOOD! Food is directly link to people's HEALTH!

So you still think this is only about Anti-Americanism? Why do you think Japan stopped importing US beef too? SAME reason.

Coro said...

Wow. A lot of info here. I guess the best thing for us to know whats really happening in S.Korea is through the Korean themselves, rather than any outsiders news..
I never knew there were such a thing as 'age limit' of the meat.. What were their president thinking.. Sure they have the right to protest then..

yeli said... makes sense now..thanks to the comments above for clarifying this whole thing...i didn't know about the age the S. korean president has basically agreed to feed his people meat that we (americans) dont even feed our pets?? hhmm...yeah, pretty stupid move...

janeberryblue said...

thanks for the concise summary because now i kinda can see what's going on. there's definitely a problem with the "no age limit" clause but i also do think that too many koreans are jumping on the 'hate america' bandwagon-- just like they did back then with the school girls. hating never solves anything but definitely the government needs to just full out confront this issue with the public.

but it IS nice to see that in some countries, the people are willing to stand up to the government on troubling issues. i wish americans were willing to do that back when talks of iraq were happening ._.

Orchid said...

@anonymous...thanks for shedding the news about "Importing beef with no age limit".

Anonymous said...

i don't agree with the statement that average koreans aren't anti-US.
for the younger generation, yes, most of them don't anti, in fact they or their parents are obsessed with learning english
but for those elder citizens, perhaps those in their 50s and above, most are anti-US
5 years ago when i stated learning korean, my korean teacher actually told her that she hates US with a passion
and also that's why when some kyopos in US came back to korea, some people actually looked down on them and think that kyopos are totally different from native koreans

Syndra said...

I just wanted to add a site with some really amazing pictures of the protests. I'm a bit late to the party. =)

Minsoo said...

If majority of elders and Koreans are anti-US, how could President Lee won the election by 'landslide'? Lee was known for his fervent US support(pro-US) and pro-FTA. He won the largest popularity vote in the history of Korean election.

There are of course, anti-US people in Korea. But they are largely made up by people who are against FTA. But that's because their lives are DIRECTLY affected by this trade deal, specifically people in agriculture and meat business. Once cheap US farm goods/meat gets imported in massive quantity, more expansive domestic farm goods/meat have no chance against it!

Korean general public IS 'genuinely' worried about the safety of the beef. Come on, it has NO AGE LIMIT!! Who wouldn't be worried?

But people who are outright Anti-American in the candle light protests are usually people who were Anti-FTA and Anti-Lee government in the first place. The Agricultural Unions are always in the first line of the protests using violence.

I am a supporter of P. Lee but I am very much disappointed in him and his government. President Lee did make a HUGE mistake by making a beef deal with US so hastily, and by not looking at the public sentiment. It made him seem like he's a dictator. And Koreans dealt with dictators in the past. The suppression, bloody violence and democracy in disguise. That's why people are more angry!

marcel said...

oh no they didn't.. hell will freeze over the day koreans understand the idea of progress.. don't they understand LMB is looking for the best benefits for korea by building ties with the most powerful country in the world? thank God i live in the U.S. & not korea.. ugh..


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