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US-North Korea: Maximum Pressure Leading to Maximum Failure?

The obstacle to progress in denuclearization negotiations with North Korea is still the fundamental confrontation over the step by step method versus the all or nothing, no concessions, no trust building approach favored by US officials, and the national security establishment. Most Korea "experts" inside the beltway echo chamber just refuse to acknowledge this fundamental shortcoming in the US diplomatic approach which is first a process issue, and then secondarily a matter of great substantial importance. Either that, or they just want regime change in North Korea and can't imagine bargaining with the communist dictatorship under any circumstances other than complete capitulation by the North, often referred to as the Libyan approach.

"Sanctions have reached a point of diminishing returns. It is unlikely, therefore, that more “maximum pressure,” without a diplomatic strategy that offers Pyongyang positive inducements to negotiate steps toward denuclearization, will deliver results."
Richard Nephew

Furious Futility: Maximum Pressure in 2020
NOVEMBER 15, 2019

Town said North Korea has previously indicated a willingness to give up parts of its nuclear program as a first-phase deal, but not to discuss complete denuclearization up front.

“The North Koreans have always preferred a step by step approach rather than negotiating everything all at once,” Town said.
Jenny Town, editor of 38North.org

North Korea's U.N. envoy says denuclearization off negotiating table with United States
Michelle Nichols, David Brunnstrom Dec. 7, 2019

This is also the procedural approach favored by Russia, China, and South Korea.

SEOUL - A senior adviser to South Korea's president expressed a broad range of frustrations at U.S. policy toward North Korea, saying Washington has not adequately empowered Seoul to play a mediating role with Pyongyang.

In an interview with VOA, Jeong Se-Hyun, who advises South Korean President Moon Jae-in on unification issues, also said the U.S. should offer more incentives to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

"Don't act as if you're offering a carrot while really you are using a stick," said Jeong. "North Korea must first be given carrots. Then if that doesn't work, you use a whip."

As North Korea's Deadline Approaches, South Pushes US for Progress
By William Gallo VOA News December 01, 2019 10:04 AM

Achieving security and stability and reducing catastrophic risks on the peninsula will require intensive, expert-level negotiations and comprehensive, step-by-step implementation over many months and years. This broader effort cannot be viewed solely as a bilateral U.S.-North Korean discussion. It also must include China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia and address the security and political concerns of all the parties, including economic and humanitarian matters.

Economic, military, and diplomatic pressure helped bring the North Koreans to the table, but reaching a successful agreement will require carrots as well as sticks.
Ernst J. Moniz and Sam Nunn

Lynn Rusten and Richard Johnson with Steve Andreasen and Hayley Anne Severance, Building Security Through Cooperation: Report of the NTI Working Group on Cooperative Threat Reduction with North Korea (Washington, DC: Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2019), 2, https://media.nti.org/documents/NTI_DPRK2019_RPT_FNL.pdf. (from the forward by Ernst J. Moniz and Sam Nunn)

South Korea: LKP Executive Committee rejects Na Kyung-won as Assembly floor leader

(Source- JTBC News, 12.4) Na Kyung-won, LKP floor leader in the National Assembly. "Today at the regular session, I will not question the matter of my term extension. Floor leader Na Kyung-won's foot steps stop here."

The Executive Committee of the right wing Liberty Korea Party earlier today after an all night long conference, voted not to renew Na Kyung-won's position as the Floor Leader of the opposition party in the National Assembly. It appears the conference where the decision took place was in a tent outside the Blue House grounds where LKP leader and former Prime Minister, Hwang Kyo-Ahn, had been conducting his "hunger strike" until he gave that up last week. However after he left the hospital he returned to the scene of his demonstration where his followers and supporters waited.

At the opening of the National Assembly this morning, Na somewhat bitterly, announced she would respect the decision of the LKP Executive Committee, and not take a further step as the party floor leader. This "in order to ensure the good of the people and the unity of the party." There is a storm of indignation and criticism within the Liberty Korea Party at the step taken by the so called "pro Hwang faction" in the Executive Committee. Expressions of resistance, public, private and on line to the committee's resolution was plentiful. LKP members of the National Assembly questioned the authority of the party committee to make such a decision, and maintained it was the prerogative of sitting LKP National Assembly members. Further, some felt that the committee was without authority to make such a determination when the new session of the National Assembly was not yet convened pending elections in April.

(Source- JTBC News, 11.20) Liberty Korea Party leader, Hwang Kyo-ahn on a hunger strike in front of the Blue House grounds.

The future of the right wing opposition party is in doubt at a critical time in South Korean history as the rift between Hwang and Na breaks out into the open. One wonders what Na and Hwang discussed when she visited his tent in front of the Blue House grounds after returning from her recent US visit. That the Executive Committee's action might portend the end of the Liberty Korea Party as we know it, was a fear expressed publicly by some members. One LKP assembly member openly criticized Hwang's hunger strike affecting a pose as a party reformer, attempting to sanctify the party. His head shaving and fasting reminiscent of traditional ascetic protests, previously used by revered left leaning reformers such as Kim Dae-jung who opposed the prior military dictatorships of South Korea. The omnipresence of Christian conference leaders and their followers at Hwang's demonstration are an indication of where the base of former impeached President Park's predecessor Saenuri party lay.

Hwang's holier than thou effect, is an implied but unexpressed contrast to the alleged corruption and hypocrisy of Na Kyung-won's effort to use her political position during the Lee Myung-bak presidency to obtain her daughter's admission to college. This is the very same type of behavior that was used to drive the former democratic party justice minister from power only several weeks ago. I asked three weeks ago in a previous analysis, how long would Na last?*

*Conservative LKP Leader Na Kyung-won on the Ropes? November 14, 2019

The internal criticism of the Executive Committee's action by Na's supporters within the LKP suggests that Hwang has privatized the party, making it his personal domain, betraying "the interests of the people." Na had just recently declared an all out legislative confrontation with the ruling coalition in the National Assembly by carrying out a filibuster to block all pending legislation before the end of the legislative session unless the proposed fast track reform bills were set aside by the Democratic Party. Democratic Party leaders are attempting to devise a strategy in conjunction with three small minority parties to nullify the filibuster. One tactic would be to declare an end to the regular session next week followed immediately by an extraordinary sesssion of the National Assembly to pass all pending legislation. Filibusters are not allowed in extraordinary session. So the looming constitutional crisis continues. It was hoped on the right that the left would be the victim, but it appears the right may crack first under the pressure.

Hwang Kyo-ahn's hunger strike enters day 6

Hwang Kyo-ahn's hunger strike passes the six day mark. He's got a relatively small crowd of supporters, mostly religious and far right types setting up tents and making noise all day and night outside the Blue House in violation of various laws. There is a similar but smaller group outside the National Assembly. Two things could possibly happen, one, a police dispersal which could become a source of violence. The second could be the death of Hwang Kyo-ahn, the right wing leader, using the tactics of the left and occupy to attempt to thwart the fast track legislative reform legislation that will damage his party's prospects in the next election cycle. Na Kyung-won has been visiting Hwang in his tent in front of the Blue House. After the extension of the GSOMIA agreement, Hwang's hunger strike, had the appearance of some efficacy. An occupy like demonstration has emerged near the Blue House, that is reportedly in violation of different proscriptions, the first a security zone around the Blue House perimeter which Hwang's tent and the assembly nearby apparently violate. The second a violation of noise restrictions in the area. The third a violation of "anti-gypsy" proscriptions which disallow squatting or erecting quarters on public grounds for overnight occupation. The demonstrators claim there is an overriding Constitutional guarantee of political expression which protects them. Some critics dispute this. Hearing a debate on this subject, it appeared that time, place and manner restrictions are not a thing on the right for these purposes. There are similar concerns surrounding a related squatter type operation around the National Assembly grounds.

Moon Jae-in has been out of town the last few days for the ASEAN conference which Seoul is hosting in Pusan. The legal and political dilemna on the plaza and streets in front of the Blue House is apparently being handled by Blue House staff and other party leaders in his absence. Thus far, they have acted with great restraint unwilling to paint the disingenuous Hwang as a "patriotric martyr for the cause," as is portrayed on the new jackets worn by the occupiers in the streets. These squatters and their tents festooned with numerous US flags. Even if the legal grounds exist to disperse them, it would be likely to escalate into an undesirable situation. Thus far, Democratic party leaders have merely asked Hwang to have his followers leave voluntarily. Police have placed notices on the tents of their illegal status suggesting they may be removed by official action. One wonders how long this fiasco will go on.

Placards, banners and signs at demonstrators' scene, say Moon Jae-in is a communist, that he is a dictator ruining the country, that he should step down, etc. Moon's defenders point out that the incredible restraint shown by police is merely evidence of Moon's substantial resume as a defender of human rights and the principles of democracy.

South Korea: LKP leader on a "hunger strike"

(Source- JTBC News, 11.20) Liberty Korea Party leader, Hwang Kyo-ahn on a hunger strike.

Just over a month ago, in a commentary titled Political Turmoil in South Korea, I asked, "...So what will the wily LKP leaders come up with for their next move? More mass street demonstrations? Attempts by demonstrators to enter the Blue House? Violent Black Bloc type tactics seen in Hong Kong presaged in the October 3 Gwangwhamun demonstration? Anything could happen." Well now we have it. Right wing Liberty Party Korea leader, Hwang Kyo-ahn, has gone on a "hunger strike," the South Korean news media reported yesterday. This is a further variation on Hwang's holier than thou pose as an ascetic when he shaved his head as a protest against the suspected corruption of then Justice Minister Cho Kuk. That particular cause, after Cho's resignation, seems to have exhausted itself in light of the accusations against LKP floor leader in the Assembly, Na Kyung-won. Now, Hwang says he's "determined to die" as part of his sit-in hunger strike. His hunger strike started at 2:00 pm local time in Seoul according to JTBC.

The backdrop is the change in political tides against Hwang and his colleague, LKP floor leader Na Kyung-won. The latter has been accused in the press with corruption in connection with her daughter's college admission. This corruption is hypocritically tied to her self described sense of "public service" on behalf of the Special Olympics. Suffice it to say, her alleged corruption seems remarkably similar to that imputed to Cho Kuk, against whom she and Hwang campaigned making appearances in the streets in Gwangwhamun Plaza with hundreds of thousands to express their moral indignation until Cho's resignation. Now, Na plans to leave the country for a break from the focus on her corruption to address GSOMIA and SOFA disputes with members of the US Congress. Her appearance at the international airport on the way out of the country today presented an awkward sight to say the least. But it's better than staying in South Korea for the time being while two criminal inquiries are pending against her. This also gives Na the opportunity to dissociate herself from Hwang's hunger strike, while giving Na the appearance of actually being engaged somehow in a real political process rather than the obstructionism which is her forte in the Assembly as the LKP opposition leader. One has to wonder what her real intentions are. It almost gives the impression of leaving a house on fire.

(Source- JTBC News, 11.20) Reo Yeong-kuk, Justice Party, "While there is much talk inside and outside that the LKP must reform, the answer will not be a hunger strike; rather than cutting off food, he should cut off politics."

But back to Hwang's hunger strike. Hwang, The LKP leader and former prime minister under Park Geun-hye is resorting to the old tradition in the Chosun court to make an individual petition to the throne by placing oneself at risk in front of the palace royal hall. This involved the petitioner being subjected to the hardships of nature and the elements until one is either heard by the King and receives an appropriate response or literally dies in the process. Anyone who watches South Korean historical dramas is familiar with these scenes. However, what is curious is why a political party leader finds it necessary to do this when South Korea today is a democracy? Such actions are typically a manifestation of powerlessness and desperation. Yes, there is the dramatic patina of virtue which goes with such scenes where the historical actor risks their life for a principle. It is apparent that Hwang's demonstration is also drama for television, like shaving his head was several weeks ago. Apart from the dramatic pictures, it is certain that Hwang will be making trips to the rest room, and drinking water.

The public venues Hwang has chosen to to make his demonstration are subject to other pre-scheduled events which conflict with his plans. So he had to move from the venue in front of the Blue House to a position on the National Assembly grounds which again had an event conflicting with Hwang's demonstration necessitating another move. When the temperature dropped at night Hwang was seen donning his duck down winter outer clothing and a blanket, taking a departure from the historical practice. It was noted by newscasters that he used a cushion to sit on the hard ground surfaces. So Hwang is not so much placing himself under maximum deprivation or risking his health in an immediate sense as in the customary practice but grandstanding for the cameras. The act isn't going over well. One cannot overestimate the desperate situation the LKP leader finds himself in politically to undertake such posturing. JTBC news commentators and seasoned politicians referred to it as a crisis in leadership. It appears that Hwang may have coordinated this event with the evangelical leader Jeon Gwang- hoon, executive director of the United Christian Conference, who played a key role in the Gwanghwamun demonstrations where he called for the impeachment of Moon Jae-In, "effective immediately." Jeon has been criticized as a demagogue and right wing extremist.

Hwang said he's demonstrating against the harm the Moon Jae-in government has done to South Korea, and against the further harm it appears is on the way. Specifically he's referring to fast track legislation to which four other parties have agreed to circumvent LKP stonewalling on legislation during the 20th Session of the National Assembly. In his statement of grievances Hwang addressed the prosecution reform particularly the provision for a specific office for investigation of crimes by public officials. Hwang asserted this was a means for Moon Jae In to punish those who oppose him. Secondly, the fast track proposal increasing the number of proportional seats and reducing district representation seats, if approved on the Assembly floor is virtually certain to adversely affect the number of LKP representatives. This proposal according to Hwang was Moon Jae In's design to "serve himself." Yet this will benefit the under represented smaller parties in the National Assembly who support the reform. This is the real crisis for the LKP. Democracy in the form of proportional representation is rearing its ugly head. The far right conservatives in Hwang's party lose even more political power adding insult to injury after their collapse in the last election cycle. Hwang has adopted the GSOMIA issue as well. He's making the US argument on behalf of intelligence sharing with Japan. It's unlikely this will earn many political points in light the humiliating treatment South Korea has received from Abe's Japan over the past few months, and the continuing "shameful," browbeating the South Korean people have witnessed from US officials in the last few weeks.

(Source- JTBC News, 11.20) Hong Joon-pyo, "What sort of hunger strike? Will a hunger strike solve a problem? Before that there is the problem that must be politically solved."

It's not suprising that criticism of Hwang's hunger strike is coming from all quarters including his own party which is showing some signs of fracturing under the pressure. Obviously there would be criticism from the incumbent party in power, the Democratic Party which regards Hwang's hunger strike as a nuisance born of anxiety on his part. The Justice Party representative suggested that rather than quitting food Hwang should quit politics. Hong Joon-pyo the former leader of the LKP, with an eye to his successor in interest's faltering position, suggested that Hwang as a the party leader should be engaged in a political solution rather than a hunger strike. He also stated that Hwang's hunger strike wouldn't budge Moon Jae-in one bit. He made very critical statements about the matter on line. Another member of the LKP cited Hwang's action as more evidence of a leadership crisis in the LKP which requires the establishment of a new conservative party. A spokesperson for the Barun Mirae Dang on the center right, in favor of fast track legislation, was similarly critical of Hwang's leadership.

US diplomatic blunderers in South Korea compared to Alice Roosevelt

(JTBC News- 11.19) Alice Roosevelt riding a stone horse statue at the Memorial for Empress Myeongsong, acting as if she were "riding a carousel at an amusement park." The picture is from the Cornell University Library collection.

Alice cavorted around Seoul being treated like an American princess after Teddy Roosevelt had already sold out Korean sovereignty to the Japanese at the Treaty of Portsmouth September 5, 1905. The great powers bargained away Korea's sovereignty to Japan to serve their own imperial interests. Russia actually was the only power to resist the Japanese, but that was because they had wanted to make Korea a Russian domain. The Russians lost the Russo-Japanese War and had to sign the Portsmouth Treaty arranged by President Roosevelt, in which Japan's dominance in Korea was acknowledged. Later in September 1905, King Gojong still thought the US might be of help to avoid the Japanese takeover of Korea when President Roosevelt's daughter, Alice Roosevelt, visited Korea. Other high ranking US diplomats who had been traveling with Alice through other Asian capitals didn't bother to come. Korea's fate was already cast.

Alice attended a formal dinner presented in her honor by the "Emperor," and rode in his palanquin through the streets of Seoul. Her memorable faux pas was to jump on the back of a stone horse statue at the memorial mound of Empress Myeongseong who in 1895 had been assassinated by the Japanese. At least Alice had an excuse. She was immature, so the editorial goes. Alice wrote that Emperor Gojong of Korea, small in stature, cut a piteous figure. Here we are more than a hundred years later.

What is the excuse of the US Ambassador to Seoul Harry Harris, who is among those who have been jawboning Korean officials for weeks? Secretary Esper? Mr. DeHart? It isn't the 1950s or the end of the Russo-Japanese War during the heyday of imperialism. South Korea is no longer run by the conservative heirs of pro-Japanese dictators and their cronies. The "experts" are giving team Trump in Asia very bad advice. South Korea isn't going to "get over" it's dispute with Japan in the manner they have in mind. Nor will it cave to US extortion. And that is what it is being called in South Korea, extortion. The behavior of US officials is described as "shameful."

Esper, Harris, DeHart, along with Chairman JCS General Milley, USFK Commander General Abrams, and others are making unreasonable demands with no basis in existing agreements. Ambassador Harris has been buttonholing members of the Korean National Assembly, particularly the opposition members making the absurd demand for five times the current South Korean cost sharing contribution to US defense costs in Korea. Also, they are pressuring South Korea to cave in to US demands to participate in, what is in effect, a new defense alliance with Japan and other US allies against China throughout the Indo-Pacific. The US is blatantly taking up for Japan in the continuing political and economic dispute between the two countries. It's pretty clear that without some concessions by the imperial minded Abe, the GSOMIA agreement for sharing military information will lapse on the 23rd as scheduled. The Chair of the Intelligence Committee in the National Assembly, Lee Hye-hoon, referred to Ambassador Harris' repeated demands as rude and unreasonable. The US cost sharing demand has been dead on arrival since September. US diplomats and generals must be stone deaf.

The South Korean government has no intention of allowing the US or Japan to dictate their foreign policy. The South Koreans have repeatedly confirmed their commitment to the alliance with the United States but they are not capitulating to absurd or unreasonable demands.

As US troops leave Seoul, a peek inside Korea's Yongsan military base

As US troops leave Seoul, a peek inside Korea’s Yongsan military base
The Yongsan military base was manned first by the Chinese then the Japanese and finally the Americans
As US troops move to Camp Humphreys, people are getting a glimpse inside
Park Chan-kyong SCMP

Published: 3:00pm, 9 Nov, 2019

...South Korea and the US have been pushing to complete the total relocation of their Combined Forces Command headquarters out of Seoul by 2021. By 2022, Camp Humphreys is expected to house nearly 45,000 people, including soldiers, contractors, and family members, who have long considered Yongsan a home away from home.

To date, Yongsan’s population has dropped from more than 25,000 to about 4,000. Its last major unit is set to move in the near future after a new hospital at Camp Humphreys opens in a few months, allowing the medical facility in Yongsan to close.

The tree-lined Yongsan garrison site, which contrasts with the bustling cement metropolis, will be transformed into a public park similar to New York’s Central Park.

South Korea paid US$10.8 billion to build the massive new US garrison in Pyeongtaek, billed as America’s largest overseas military base, occupying 15 sq km. When the land is returned, the US will have given back 178 sq km by consolidating more than 91 bases throughout the country into the two regional hubs of Pyeongtaek and Daegu...


Article on the history of Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, the protracted US base transition in South Korea, and its significance. Some nice photos with the report of interesting sites on the base compound. Not covered in the article is the environmental damage done to the land within the base and what the plans are to remediate and pay for the damage. Nor is there a discussion of the plans for construction of the new US embassy compound there and their progress or the associated USMC security unit and heliport associated with the new embassy compound.

Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
January 24, 2017

The Department of State selected SHoP Architects of New York, New York for the design of the new U.S. Embassy complex in Seoul, Korea.

The multi-building complex will be situated on a 19.5-acre site in the Yongsan district of Seoul. The new complex will include a Chancery, support facilities and a Marine Security Guard Residence...


Overhead photo of Yongsan in Seoul Korea shown with hazardous hydrocarbon spill sites. JTBC News June 30, 2018

"JTBC is reporting 84 recorded incidents of diesel and JP spills at the former Yongsan base. Benzene levels in the water table are 162 times safe limits. It's clear from the MOU on environmental impact remedial measures agreed to by the US under the SOFA, that something needs to be done to correct the situation."


The Populist Pastor Leading a Conservative Revival in South Korea

The Populist Pastor Leading a Conservative Revival in South Korea
By Choe Sang-Hun
Nov. 8, 2019 The New York Times

Invoking God, patriotism and family values, the Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon is creating a backlash against the “Communizing” government of President Moon Jae-in.

Whatever else the Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon may be called, there is no denying that the 63-year-old Presbyterian pastor has become a force to be reckoned with in South Korea, spearheading a conservative pushback against President Moon Jae-in. Once dismissed as a crank, Mr. Jun has attracted huge crowds to his rallies in central Seoul in recent weeks, forcing Mr. Moon’s justice minister, Cho Kuk​, to step down. He is also demanding Mr. Moon’s resignation, ​calling it “an order from the Lord.”



I did a write up related to this character and far right extremism and dictator reverence posed by the Gwangwhamun demo in Seoul, South Korea Oct. 3:

(Source- JTBC News, 10.3) Jeon Gwang Hoon, executive director of the United Christian Conference, calls for the impeachment of Moon Jae-In, "effective immediately." He also blasted "those expletive deleted illegally impeached Park Geun Hye and instigated the press" (against her). Minister Jeon was criticized for soliciting contributions for himself citing the biblical rewards in store for contributors, while proverbial "men in black" stood guard nearby.

More at the link:


South Korea- Constitutional Confrontation?

Hwang Kyo-ahn Has it Both Ways

The former prime minister is suspected of considering martial law plans in 2017, he seeks to take political credit from those who would have welcomed it, while denying he had any role.

(Source- JTBC News, 10.28 ) Hwang Kyo-ahn, former prime minister, and leader of the Liberty Korea Party, (right); and Na Kyung-won, National Assembly floor leader of Liberty Korea Party, (center) attend 40th Memorial Service for assassinated dictator Park Chung-hee (10.26). Hwang is quoted as saying, "we must learn the spirit of Park Chung-hee."

There are recent reports on the disclosure of new evidence, National Security Council documents, detailing preparations for the implementation of martial law during the waning days of the Park Geun-hye impeachment proceedings. During this time in February and early March 2017, it appears from the documentation, that the commander of the Defense Security Command, prepared plans to implement martial law, to avoid the fall of the conservative Park Geun-Hye administration. The official National Security Council documents are circumstantial evidence that the then acting president and prime minister Hwang Kyo-Ahn, had knowledge of the plans, and perhaps as acting chair of the NSC, played a role in their formulation. Hwang has made flat denials of any knowledge of such preparations for the implementation of martial law to save the conservative administration. At the time, democratic opposition protesters were carrying out massive demonstrations in Gwanghwamun and other locations in South Korea during the pendency of the Park Geun-hye impeachment process. Other observers have attempted to belittle the significance of the martial law plans, suggesting that at worst, they were only contingency plans to deal with public disorder rather than a coup d'etat to overthrow the constitutional order. It is not clear what happened during the very last days preceding the conviction of Park Geun-hye by the Constitutional Court. The critical witness to the formulation of the martial law plans, and their potential execution was the commander of the Defense Security Command, Cho Hyun-cheon ( 조현천 기무사령관 ). He was the key person involved in their development. It is important to note in this regard, that the same role was played by former president Chun Du-won as the Defense Security Command commander after the assassination of Park Chung-hee (Park Geun-hye's father) forty years earlier after the fall of the Yushin Constitution. The coup planning DSC commander Cho Hyun-cheon, in question now, fled South Korea, and his whereabouts are allegedly unknown. Interpol has refused to issue a warrant calling for his arrest citing a policy not to use legal process in political cases. All of this is according to an interview of Im Tae-hun of the Military Rights Center ( 임태훈 군인권센터 ) who represents the whistle blower who leaked classified NSC documents. *

* https://news.v.daum.net/v/20191021211005908, (transcript of youtube podcast) MBC radio interview 10.21

(Source- OhMyNews 10.30) Im Tae-hun press briefing at the Military Rights Center.

Significant detail in the 2017 martial law plans in question called for various army units to deploy to the Gwanghwamun plaza site of the so-called "candlelight" demonstrations, multiple major university campus locations, strategic bridges in Seoul, and to Yoido, the location of the National Assembly. All these tactical moves with a view toward dispersing demonstrators, arresting activists and political opposition leaders, blocking movements of citizens, and preventing the normal governmental functions of the National Assembly.

In an ironic turnabout, the Liberty Korea Party currently in its role of political opposition, has organized demonstrations at Gwanghwamun against the current Moon Jae-in, democratic administration. Although LKP floor leader Na, gave herself an award for toppling the Justice Minister Cho Guk from his newly appointed position, it is likely that the Chief Prosecutor's office is the more responsible party. After attending an overnight Gwangwhamun demonstration this weekend, LKP leaders Hwang and Na, attended the 40th memorial ceremony for former president Park Chung-hye. The former president has been credited with modernizing the Korean economy while ruling South Korea with an iron fist in a military like social order. The former dictator was also credited with "normalizing" relations with Japan, which the blog has described elsewhere. This modernization effort was characterized by self serving corruption by the former Japanese trained military officer and his pro-Japanese political and business cronies. The LKP represents the heirs of this Park political tradition. These interests have consistently blocked efforts to come to terms with the Japanese colonial legacy in Korea for decades.

Cho Guk recently had been appointed Justice Minister to reform the national prosecutor's office. It appears that there was an element of bias in prosecution resistance to the widely supported initiative to check the unbridled power of the "republic of lawyers." The apparent corruption of Cho Guk's family members gave them a lever to force him out of office. The prosecutor's office was accused of multiple leaks by some journalists which added to the political unrest in the streets. On the other hand, Im Tae-hun, who represents the martial law plans whistle blower, asserts that the Chief Prosecutors Office has deliberately sat on documentation that reflects suspicion on Hwang Kyo-Ahn complicity. The far right opposes fast track reform while an agreement has been reached by four political parties to fast track the legislation so as to get a floor vote during this session of the National Assembly.

(Source- JTBC News, 10.28 ) Hwang Kyo-ahn, leader of the Liberty Korea Party, and Na Kyung-won, National Assembly floor leader of Liberty Korea Party, are front and center at the 40th Memorial Ceremony for the former President Park Chung-hee, 10.26. The sign above the portal says refers to President Park Chung-hee's philosophy as a father of the country, a proper country has a strong military.

Ironically, Hwang's presence at the memorial service for the former dictator was marked notably by some boos and jeers calling him "traitor." It is notable that the impeachment of Park Geun-hye took place while Hwang was acting president. She was tried under impeachment proceedings. Apparently some in the conservative audience thought he should have done something about it while he had the opportunity. The peaceful transition of power by impeachment and free elections, is viewed as a betrayal of the ultra far right elements attending not only the Park 40th Memorial but also the current Gwanghwamun demonstrations sponsored by the LKP: protestant evangelicals that elected Park Geun-hye; and the far right pro-dictator elements. Hwang has been reported to have said things such as we need to remember "Park's leadership concerning the economy during a difficult economic period of which there are many examples." Also "we must learn the spirit of Park Chung-hee." As to the anti-Moon Jae-in demonstrations calling for his arrest and ouster, Hwang said the demonstrations reflect the "anger of the people." Political commentators noted that it is evident that the LKP leadership intends these demonstrations continue. There were other cynical observations about the role of churches and the party apparently furnishing free food as inducements to gather. One expert said, Cho Guk's fall was no cause to relax, "they caught the rabbit in the house, now it's time to catch the rabbit in the mountain." Another observation was that South Korea may only be at the half way point in this constitutional confrontation.

Meanwhile in another late news item, it was reported that leader Na, appeared at press briefing with the National Assembly leader, Moon Hee-sang, and two other party leaders, to announce that the Assembly committee handling fast track legislation has referred a prosecutorial reform bill to the floor for a vote. During the news item it was noted that the representatives from the center right Barun Mirae Party, and the Justice Party were demonstrating on the floor for a vote to fast track the Legislative reform bill first. As the blog has noted previously, it is this extension of proportional (nation wide) seating that is expected to decrease the number of district seats held by the Liberty Korea Party. Until this matter is resolved, the street politics and political theater in Seoul is likely to continue unabated. Na said something like this to the National Assembly leader, "I'd rather stop this unconstitutional fast track process than hold hands" (for a photo shoot). The leader responded, "I'd rather hold a wrist, than be grabbed by the ankle." The latter a reference to the continual obstruction of legislation by the LKP opposition. LKP physical obstruction of committee efforts led by Na last April is currently subject to an investigation by prosecutors.

Political Turmoil in South Korea

(Source- JTBC News 10.18) Liberty Korea Party representatives may be charged in a group, as they have refused to respond to summons (from the investigating prosecutors for the April 25 "fast track" incident in the National Assembly.)

The right wing Liberty Korea Party didn't have much time to relish the resignation of the Cho Kuk, the short term Minister of Justice who barely lasted thirty five days after being appointed to reform the National Prosecutor's office in South Korea. This morning, prosecution office investigators arrived at the National Assembly Broadcast archives office to collect all video recordings related to last April's Liberty Korea Party sit in blockade of the National Assembly offices to preclude consideration of "fast track" legislative proposals (discussed here in an earlier blog entry Oct 12). The fast track proposals included electoral reform as well as prosecution reform. The presentation of a search warrant at the video archives indicates that the Chief Prosecutor's office has decided to proceed with a formal investigation of the Liberty Korea Party's unlawful acts in the National Assembly building despite their representatives collective refusal to respond to legal process. The prosecution could rely on filing charges against members identified in the video recordings without obtaining individual responses to summons or statements from the conservative representatives. As many as sixty representatives or staff members were involved in the disorder, which ultimately failed to prevent a fast track approval vote the legislative committee.

(Source- JTBC News 10.18) Liberty Korea Party opposition leader Na Kyung Won in the National Assembly, "I have already said I know that in order for government to finish its (fast track) investigation we will face investigation. Nevertheless, during the regular session of the National Assembly to take colleagues away (from our duties) really..."

Given the suspicions surrounding Cho Kuk's wife and other family members, it may have been a serious mistake for Moon Jae In to appoint him Justice Minister. Minister Cho's sudden resignation on October 14 was the right move in view of increasing domestic dissatisfaction and unrest evidenced by street demonstrations. South Korea's economic difficulties prompted by the ongoing trade disputes in Asia, the rift with Japan, and the unraveling of relations with North Korea have all taken a toll on the approval rating of the democratic administration. One domestic poll reported by JTBC on the 17th reported that Moon's approval rating had improved by more than three percent after the sudden Cho resignation. Today JTBC reported a Gallup poll saying that Moon's popularity had continued to fall and was below forty percent for the first time since he took office.

(Source- JTBC News 10.18) National Assembly Broadcast caught the fast track confrontation live on camera while it happened. LKP party members lead by Representative Na obstructing the National Assembly. Complete unedited archive videos are sought in the prosecution's search warrant.

The Liberty Korea Party can take little comfort from the polls. It is they now who are being chided publicly for being on the wrong side of the legal process. In addition to the negative publicity of their embarrassing impolitic display of weakness last April, they are now presented with the prospect of dealing with an apparently implacable and capable chief prosecutor. In addition to this, they are faced with potentially losing seats in the National Assembly based on the electoral reform to which four other political parties have agreed to fast track. This reform may come up for a vote in the Assembly in time to affect the April 2020 elections barring any unforeseen developments. However, unforeseen developments seem to have been the order of the day since the Park impeachment, and anything could happen. Who could have predicted massive demonstrations in Gwanghwamun, as seen on October 3, and October 9 in favor of the right wing party? The democratic party assembly leader commented on the unsavory quality of dictator reverence that seemed to affect some of the crowd. Leader Na responded that democrats had no room to criticize anyone for dictatorial traits. Na also commented that the warrant for National Assembly archive videos was a "hollywood like stunt."

(Source- JTBC News 10.18) Lee In Yeong, Democratic Party floor leader in the National Assembly. Hiding from the chief prosecutor..."instead of rationalizing self advocacy I wish those of you facing legal process from the prosecutors office respond now. No one, no matter who they are, is above the law."

Under these circumstances, polls mean little when the LKP doesn't have a majority in the legislature and is out of stonewalling and diversion tactics. So what will the wily LKP leaders come up with for their next move? More mass street demonstrations? Attempts by demonstrators to enter the Blue House? Violent black bloc type tactics seen in Hong Kong presaged in the October 3 Gwanghwamun demonstration? Anything could happen. The trial process against Cho Kuk's spouse began today, but the prosecution hasn't yet complied with discovery requests from the defense based on claims disclosure would adversely affect investigations related to former Minister Cho's family. The judge did not accept the explanation and further hearing is scheduled.


The Black Hole of South Korean Domestic Politics

(Source- JTBC News, 10.3) The Taegukki People’s Revolution Movement, a reactionary far right organization, appeared to be present at the demonstration in force, carrying US flags as well as Korean flags. Their banner (above) features the former ruthless dictators Syngman Rhee and Park Chung Hee.

There is a contrary view that the demonstration in Gwangwhamun was more extensive than I have previously described.* The promoters of the demonstration, specifically, the Liberty Korea Party, have claimed that there were 3 million demonstrators. The author watched news reports of every candlelight demonstration at Gwanghwamun that brought down the previous Park government. Rather than increase the estimate of the participants at the anti-Cho Guk, anti- democracy demonstration, it appears that an estimate in the hundreds of thousands would also be appropriate for the democratic pro-Cho Guk demonstration last Saturday.

While the turnout on Saturday in support of the judicial reforms and the Moon administration was substantially larger than the Liberty Party rally at Gwangwhamun, as a practical matter it doesn't matter, the political impact is equivalent. The Liberty Party turnout was massive. In light of other pressing matters, the pending negotiations with North Korea; the diplomatic and economic rift with Japan; the impact of repeated typhoons damaging the southern regions of South Korea; and the investigations of Justice Minister Cho Guk's family for suspected corruption, and the leaders of the Liberty Party Korea for illegally obstructing the constitutional functions of the legislative assembly; the domestic political polarization in South Korea represents a political crisis. Sohn Suk-hee, chief of the JTBC News Division correctly characterized the current domestic political confrontation in South Korea as a "black hole."

*For a description of the Liberty Party demonstration:

Impressions of the anti- Cho Guk demonstration


For a description of the earlier pro- Cho Guk demonstation:

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