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South Korea Divided Over Missile Test

Posted July. 10, 2006 03:03,   


North Korea’s missiles are dividing South Korea from Seoul to Busan.

The South Korean government adheres to meetings with the North even after seven missiles that could reach everywhere on the Korean Peninsula and even beyond it were fired. Anti-American demonstrations that oppose a Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) are intensifying. Moreover, anti-governmental demonstrations staged by conservative groups are getting louder and louder. In July 2006, South Korea is showing signs of slipping into a chaos of “South-South” conflicts.

Anti-American demonstrations in Seoul versus anti–North Korean demonstrations in Busan—

Starting July 10, the second round of negotiations for a Korea-U.S. FTA will be held in Seoul, while an inter-Korean general-level meeting is scheduled to be held in Busan starting July 11.

From July 10 to July 14, the timing for the negotiations, various demonstrations and propaganda campaigns in various parts of Seoul are scheduled, including ones that will be staged by the Korean Alliance against the Korea-U.S. FTA everyday in front of Shilla Hotel, the venue for meetings between Korean and U.S. negotiators. These demonstrations are expected to develop into fierce anti-American protests.

In particular, “the movement against the U.S. base extension in Pyeongtaek,” which has led anti-U.S. demonstrations, will participate in the protests, which means virulent slogans against the U.S. are likely to be heard during the protests.

Meanwhile, reports have it that conservative groups that are against North Korea and North Korean policies of this administration plan to stage a series of protests in Busan, backed by the public opinion which is against holding general-level talks with the North as scheduled from July 11 despite its missile tests.

All these scenes clearly reveal the conflicts between practical benefits and ideologies surrounding the two Koreas and the U.S. Some have pointed out that these conflicts are largely attributable to the current government’s inconsistency.

Song Bok, an honorary professor at Yonsei University, said, “The severity of the problem lies in that even though it is the government and the ruling party that should do their parts properly in order to resolve this complex dilemma, they are acting inconsistently.”

According to him, the government only increased the confusion—it insisted on a subdued response to the missile fire by the North, which is not in line with approaches of the U.S. and Japan, while it did not make enough efforts to persuade the opposition against a U.S.-Korea FTA of the need for it. Some are even raising suspicions that the current administration will try to use anti-American demonstrations politically ahead of the presidential election next year.

The South Korean government will hold inter-Korean talks as scheduled even after the missile fire by the North—

North Korea has postponed inter-Korean general-level meetings several times, taking issue with the ROK-U.S. Joint Military Exercises. However, the South Korean government will hold the inter-Korean general-level meeting as scheduled from July 11 in spite of the North’s missile fire, which is far more dangerous than the joint military exercises.

From July 2000, 18 inter-Korean general-level meetings were held, and the North postponed the meeting unilaterally as many as six times. Most recently, the North unilaterally put off the general-level meeting which was scheduled to be held from March 28 to 31 this year in Pyongyang, saying, “It is regrettable that the South will hold joint military exercises with a foreign power as scheduled.”

Korea-U.S. RSOI (Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration), which the North took issue with, is a routine defense exercise. Quite contrary to this, the South Korean government did not accuse the joint military exercises of North Korea, Russia and China of “exercising for an invasion of South Korea,” much less link them with inter-Korean talks.

The North postponed an inter-Korean meeting, even making an outrageous charge that the South’s vigilance against the North was strengthened due to the September 11 terrorist attacks and the war against Iraq.

On the contrary, the government decided to hold the 19th inter-Korean general-level meeting from July 11 to 14 in Busan as scheduled. Not only the Grand National Party, the opposition party, but also inter-Korean relationship experts continuously point out, “The government is sticking to general-level meetings as if they are a silver-bullet solution to all problems.”

The government keeps turning a blind eye to worsening “South-South conflicts”—

There is a lot of talk going on about Cheong Wa Dae being responsible for the chaos in which this nation finds itself including fierce demonstrations of two different characteristics in Seoul and Busan. It has been pointed out that it is getting more and more difficult to draw public consensus on how to resolve the problem because Cheong Wa Dae keeps a soft stance toward the North’s missile fire, signaling that it does not care about the aggravating division among South Koreans. Je Seong-ho, a law professor at Chungang University, said, “Conflicts are being expanded and reproduced as the government continues to do politics aimed not at unifying the members of this nation, but at bringing about division among them, which, it hopes, will give the ruling party an edge in the upcoming presidential election.” He added, “However, the characteristics of the crisis that we find ourselves in make it all the more important for the government to heed and respect the opposing opinions in order to overcome conflicts.”