Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Korea’s new ‘public enemy number one’

A recent wave of hysteria has swept Korea. Koreans by the tens of thousands are marching in the streets, demanding their government do something to end the peril. What could that horrible danger be?

Cigarettes? Something like 30% to 50% of Korean males smoke. Those lead to cancer that kills thousands of Koreans every year.

North Korean nukes? Lil’ Kim is still dragging his feet on the nuclear disarmament that he promised months ago.

Defective Chinese products? After all, poisonous Chinese-made products sickened and killed people in Central America and house pets in America, among other horrors. And China’s ‘yellow dust’ besmirches the skies above Korean cities on a practically daily basis nowadays, making even more Koreans sick.

Islamic terrorists? Just last year, a group of jihadists in Afghanistan kidnapped a number of Korean humanitarian workers, murdering two of them before accepting a hefty ransom from the Korean government.

The answer is ‘none of the above’. You see, Koreans aren’t at all concerned about any of that. What really ticks them off is…imported beef. Specifically US-grown beef. Here’s the background to this bizarre story.

Way back in April 2008, newly elected South Korean president Lee Myung Bak visited President Bush at Camp David in the US for an official state visit. President Lee, who campaigned in part on a platform of a reinvigorated Korean-US partnership, decided at that time to again permit the import of US beef into South Korea. US beef imports to Korea had been banned for five years following the detection of a single case of mad cow disease in Washington State in 2003.

What a difference eight weeks can make. What began as a small, seemingly safe gesture to placate an important foreign ally has now boiled over into a typhoon that threatens to swamp Lee’s tenuous hold on the ship of state. The so-called beef crisis has caused Lee’s entire cabinet to offer their collective resignation. Massive crowds are more-or-less permanently parked (along with an accompanying ‘beefed up’ force of riot police) in the middle of Seoul’s central business district. Parents, uniformed school children, professionals and blue collar workers, young and old, by the tens of thousands have all gathered under the ‘anti US beef’ banner. The crowds have been swayed by vast amounts of pseudo-science and disinformation on the Korean-language web and in the Korean media, which has made US beef the new public enemy number one.

But there is more to this mass movement than meets the eye. This concocted crisis is not just about mad cow disease in US beef, which has in fact killed no one. Even the World Health Organization (no friend of the US) admits US beef is safe to eat. As an American might say, “where’s the beef?” The beef is not about the beef, not really.

Emotions, hysterical nationalism, leftist opposition to the conservative President Lee, and more than a whiff of anti Americanism have frothed together in a toxic stew in Seoul and other Korean cities in recent weeks. If Koreans were truly worried about public health or living longer, they would be far better off, for instance, wearing seat belts or quitting smoking. But the popular Korean “anti US beef” movement is not about to let a few inconvenient facts get in its way.

The beef crisis has shown the world that, despite the incredible success of Korea’s technology and economy, the presence on the world stage of a Korean UN Secretary General, Koreans can still be very infantile in their outlook. Decades of globalization notwithstanding, at the heart of many Asian countries is a nasty and mean streak of xenophobia. Slick marketing campaigns and catchy slogans like “Korea Sparkling” or “Malaysia Truly Asia” can and do succeed in glossing over this unsavory trait. However, as is happening now, sometimes the less-than-pleasant truth presents itself.

Asian xenophobia also manifests itself in trade barriers which all but forbid substantial foreign investment or ownership within many Asian countries. For South Korea, this is especially ironic, as it owes its economic miracle to this very same international trade. Longstanding Korean claims to ‘special circumstances’ are wearing thin to its foreign trading partners. Koreans are still resisting the notion that free trade works both ways.

Even after the ‘beef crisis’ fades from the headlines, the trade barriers--and a certain degree of hostility to foreigners--will remain here in Korea.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

{{.....more than a whiff of anti Americanism have frothed ....}}

Pres. Lee was given a landslide victory at the polls earlier this year. As a Korean, how come he misread the pulse of his fellowmen when his expected pro-business agenda and his call for closer ties with the US he did not not think it through on the decision to allow the reintroduction of US beef when culturally and traditionally the quality and texture of Beef in South Korea is itself a Religion? So any national movement to protect its industry is xenophobic, but US subsidised farming and cattle feed lotting is not?

You accuse Koreans of being xenophobic? I can provide layers of xenophobism from the West to the East/Far East that proofs colonisation in repackaged norms.
The only Far East country to make it to the G-8 is Japan, right? Is Japan given a level playing field by the oh-so-open you tout west? Why is the US still arm locking Japan? Japan is the only country from the Far East to have made a spectacular success of fusion - western in govt and bureaucracy while remaining quintessentially Japanese. Yet, people from the East/Far East are always perceived as sub humans.

You touch on globalisation. Recognise how the West interprets globalisation. Globalist corporate moguls who operate huge commercial conglomerates and who view the whole Earth as their marketplace are nothing more than carpetbaggers driven by greed, employing every conceivable stunt to avoid taxation as they erect their corporate empires, businessmen seek personal gain above all else, even at the expense of peoples and governments. And that is the stark truth.

{{....Koreans can still be very infantile in their outlook. ..}}

And America with its broad, global, mature outlook is not?

America’s debts are unpayable and America is bankrupt as is its financial system. What does a nation do when the value of real estate falls $12 to $15 trillion? It has a depression of course. Americans cannot see this or do not want too, but foreigners can see clearly where America is headed and they do not want to be any part of it. That is why nations are now widening the distance from themselves and America. They know the American empire is dying. They know all the nasty things that America has threatened to do to other nations if they didn’t do what the US demanded are coming to an end. They are just waiting to tell the US to take a hike. Morgan Stanley went to China with cap in hand for cash, so did Lehman , so did Bush for 2 trillion - graciously rejected, of course. Confucianism still holds sway out here in the East/Far East.

A weakened superpower isn’t a signal of a peaceful transition to something better. It’s an invitation to revolution.
The signs are already there. Today as the United States declines in strength, three significant power blocs have emerged: a radical Islamic resurgence led by Iran, a united Europe, and an integrating Asia. Efforts to dethrone the U.S. are visible in all three. Just as important, the seeds of future competition among the three have already begun to sprout.

This world is hurtling toward a time when American influence will be not only countered by these three power blocs, but also eliminated from global politics. Then these three superpowers-in-waiting will scramble for the lead. Russia has already formed an anti-west alliance. It is called BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China)
Go do some reading on this and understand the rationale for this alliance.

Good day.

ea

Anonymous said...

The World Economic Forum's (WEF) new Global Enabling Trade Index survey looked at 118 economies in the world. The tariffs, customs administration efficiency and availability of transport and communications infrastructure were under the telescope.

The forum ranked Hong Kong number one thanks to its "very open market" as well as a "secure and open business environment." Singapore came next.
NOTE: Chinese at the helm!!

Third and fourth places were taken by Sweden and Norway respectively, while Canada was ranked fifth.

America lost somewhere in the fog.
So much for the "mature" outlook country.

ea

Anonymous said...

great discussion, very provocative, in the best kind of way.

dano said...

Bloody ungrateful Koreans. Maybe USA should have let the North rule them and not save them in the war.

Anonymous said...

Bloody ungrateful Koreans. Maybe USA should have let the North rule them and not save them in the war.
5:22 AM

......................
The 130,000-man North Korean Army, which crossed the South Korean border in June 1950, was trained, supported, and equipped by the Soviet Union, and included a brigade of Soviet T-34 medium tanks (with U.S. Christie suspensions).58 The artillery tractors were direct metric copies of Caterpillar tractors. The trucks came from the HENRY FORD-Gorki plant or the ZIL plant. The North Korean Air Force had 180 Yak planes built in plants with U.S. Lend-Lease equipment. These Yaks were later replaced by MiG-15s powered by Russian copies of Rolls-Royce jet engines sold to the Soviet Union in 1947. US Deaf, Mute Blindmen made billions on the blood of both their own natives and koreans.

After President Nixon took office in 1969 and initiated detente with transfers of military technology
detente with transfers of military technology, the toll on American lives increased.
a key part of President Nixon's policy was the transfer of technology to the USSR. 5,000 American lives were lost because of the Deaf, Mute Blindmen of America's Greed.

Blame is on America.

ea