Friday, June 20, 2008

Where's the Beef? The Sources of Public Anger

One reason that the 1980s Wendy's commercial keeps popping into my mind is that I, like most observers of the political upheaval in South Korea these days, wonder what are the true or genuine sources of public anger. Few people who observe the repeated candlelight vigils and the evolution of the anti-Lee Myung Bak government movement would question that the people seem angry. Koreans are passionate about many things, including their politics. But what are the sources of this current passion? According to press reports, they include:
  • Opposition to President Lee's proposal for a Grand National Canal.
  • Disagreement with the new President's media reforms, including changes in relevant cabinet ministries and creation of a new Broadcasting and Communications Commission.
  • Opposition to education-sector reforms instituted by the new government.
  • A general opposition to the way in which President Lee's government implemented its policies, without considering the wishes of the Korean people.
The list could probably go on, but it appears the primary source of public anger in South Korea was pinpointed in an insightful New York Times article by Choe Sang-Hun. That is, it has to do with nationalism and with Korean pride. Powerful television images from Camp David instantly conveyed to some Koreans that President Lee had kowtowed to President Bush by bringing him an agreement to resume imports of American beef in exchange hopefully for approval of the KORUS FTA. As correspondent Choe notes, when faced with the wall built from shipping containers, "... people pasted identical leaflets on it, their message dramatically summarizing Mr. Lee’s image and alienation from many of his people: “This is a new border for our country. From here starts the U.S. state of South Korea.”

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