Monday, March 13, 2017

Trump's Silence Over China's Bullying Could Resurrect South Korea's Anti-Americanism

Park Geun-hye’s impeachment has brought nine years of conservative governance in Korea to a screeching halt. Now that there isn’t a single conservative candidate who has not been tainted by the Park Geun-hye/Choi Soon-sil scandal to one degree or another, it is all but guaranteed that the next president is going to come from the progressive Minjoo Party. And as I mentioned over the weekend, Moon Jae-in is now the man to beat.

Seeing how he was President Roh Moo-hyun’s former chief of staff, Moon is taking great pains to tell voters (and foreign observers) that he’s not anti-American. However, no matter how much Moon may wish to distance himself from his past, the Korean Left will have a much harder time of doing that. It wasn’t that long ago when Korean protesters were stomping on or burning American flags. Businesses blatantly refused to serve American customers and a good number of American citizens who lived in Korea at the time were assaulted and harassed on a daily basis. Many of them were forced to pretend to be Canadians to avoid harassment.


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While the conservatives have been in charge, overt anti-Americanism practically disappeared. That is not to say that the conservatives were the only reason that anti-Americanism retreated. To be sure, there were other reasons as well. Today’s young Koreans’ nationalism is based on their identity as South Koreans, which is different from ten to fifteen years ago when minjok was the popular refrain. The KORUS FTA, which has also helped to deepen trade ties between the two countries, also helped to force back anti-Americanism. Ironically, the KORUS FTA was first initiated by President Roh Moo-hyun who
 once rhetorically asked “What’s wrong with being anti-American?”

However, it would be a mistake to think that Korea’s progressives have completely given up on viewing the United States as the enemy. When the first pieces of THAAD’s system arrived at Osan Air Base, the Minjoo Party’s chairperson, Choo Mi-ae falsely claimed that it was done in secret; that it was agreed upon by illegitimate political leaders who hoodwinked the Korean people. She went so far as to say that bringing in those components was a violation of Korea’s sovereignty.

On the other hand, the only thing that Choo Mi-ae has said about China’s bullying and (unofficial) sanctions against South Korea’s economy vis-a-vis the latter’s THAAD deployment was that it was “excessive.”

Choo Mi-ae, who doesn't even know how binoculars work, thinks her opinion on THAAD matters.
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Especially with the boorish Donald Trump in the White House, the stage is set for anti-Americanism to return with a vengeance. Considering what we already know about Trump and the Korean Left, things could get ugly. When the Korean Left takes over the reins of power, they will have a responsibility to behave like adults. However, they are not in power yet. The ones who are in power and who are in the position to do anything to try to mitigate this are American Republicans. 
God help us all!

Deploying THAAD anti-missile batteries in South Korea has been contentious to say the least. There is a significant portion of the population that believes that it does more harm than good. After all, THAAD will not protect the 20 million or so people who live in Seoul (Seoul will be targeted by short-range rockets and artillery barrages and THAAD was never designed to counter those threats anyway). THAAD’s defensive capabilities are designed to better protect American military personnel and assets as well as the American mainland from long-range North Korean missiles.

The alliance between the United States and Korea is a mutual one. That means that Korea has to come to America’s aid as much as America has to come to Korea’s aid in the event of a military conflict that affects either nation. Especially at a time when “America First” rhetoric (never mind its historical roots) has permeated the American political landscape, it would be ill-advised for the Korean government to confirm what many American voters and government officials already falsely believe - that allies take and take and take but never give anything back.

However, THAAD has put Korea in China’s crosshairs. China’s unofficial sanctions have hurt Korean businesses. From Kpop stars to duty free shops to Lotte to practically any business that relies on the Chinese market, Korean businesses are hurting. A more thorough study would have to be conducted to deduce just how much China’s sanctions are costing Korea
’s economy. But in politics, perception is oftentimes more than enough.

When the average Korean citizen feels he is worse off because of THAAD, which really doesn’t do much to protect Koreans, it would only be natural for more and more Koreans to question its benefits over time. The United States can nip this in the bud. President Trump ought to make a statement that the United States stands firmly with South Korea; that the United States would not sit idly by while China pushes around one of its most important allies. He should say publicly that his administration will look into ways to deepen trade ties between Seoul and Washington in order to alleviate the economic burden that THAAD has thrown onto Koreans’ collective shoulders.

However, the only American official of any real importance to have said anything about China’s bullying of South Korea over THAAD is Senator John McCain. No one in the Trump administration is saying a word to support Korea! This is irresponsible and yet another indication of the Trump administration’s sheer incompetence. In less than sixty days, South Korea is going to have a new government that will be populated by people who have a long history of anti-Americanism. All they need is the right excuse to resurrect it. They’ll be able to say that they stood up to American bullies and helped to improve economic relations with China and they will likely get rewarded by voters.

President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ought to be doing everything they can to try their best to avoid that more-than-plausible eventuality. And yet there is nothing but silence from Washington. Never mind that Trump can’t seem to keep quiet about anything else!


If the worst does come to pass and if future American historians ask who lost South Korea, they can look back at this moment now and know without a doubt that President Trump’s silence was where it all started!

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