Here is a major irony. One which Western media should ponder and be ashamed.
Collapse? Regime change? Those terms are two a penny in talk of Korea. North Korea, that is. Never mind that after 70 years the DPRK is still going strong – wishful thinking rules.
Yet the same papers that rush to publish any speculative tittle-tattle about North Korea tend to ignore the other Korea. Bad move, on two counts. In general, South Korea is a major country. It matters, in so many ways. It’s really interesting. And, the facts are far easier to ferret out.
A VERY KOREAN SCANDAL
Right now, collapse and regime change apply far more in Seoul than Pyongyang. South Korea is in the grip of a major political crisis. President Park Geun-hye’s future is on the line. Yet hardly any American or British outlet seem to be covering the story at all. Quite a dereliction of duty.
This isn’t the place for a full account of what is a highly complex scandal which is still unfolding. If you’re new to Choi-gate, as Seoul media have dubbed this affair, I suggest you start here. And keep following, for who know where this may end? There is even talk of impeachment.
Right now, collapse and regime change apply far more in Seoul than Pyongyang
In South Korea, as in the North, we must winnow fact from allegation. Last Tuesday (October 25), in a hastily called press conference – lasting 90 seconds, pre-recorded and no questions allowed – President Park apologized for sharing “certain documents” with one Choi Sun-sil.
So who is she? A long-time Park friend since the 1970s. Daughter of Choi Tae-min, the distinctly dodgy founder of a religious cult. Rev. Choi, who married six times and used seven names, was the young Ms Park’s mentor (and allegedly more) in those dark days when she lost first her mother then her father to assassins’ bullets. Rasputin comparisons abound, then and now.
Choi Sun-sil has fled to Germany, where she pleads innocence – yet refuses to come home. Minimally, it’s clear from some 200 computer files found in her office by journalists (rather than prosecutors, who at first were suspiciously slow to act) that someone with no official post or security clearance had access to top secret state documents. That is a criminal offence.
Yet her influence may have gone far further. It’s being suggested that Choi drove policy in key areas: including, even, her pal Park’s shifting approaches to North Korea.
This was a national security secret which Choi had no right to be privy to
TWO FACTS, TWO FURTHER ALLEGATIONS
Once again we have to separate what is known from what’s alleged. The former is startling enough. One 8-page file, titled “Blue House meeting”, was saved ten hours before the then president-elect Park met her predecessor Lee Myung-bak (no love lost, but that’s another story) on December 28, 2012.
That document appears to have been Park’s script for this crucial meeting. It includes this question: “What contacts have made between the two Koreas?” And this answer: “The military had three secret contacts with the North’s National Defense Commission recently.”
Officials involved have now confirmed these contacts. But no one knew at the time, or was supposed to. This was a national security secret which Choi had no right to be privy to.
A second case is Park’s vaunted Dresden Initiative. As NK News has already reported in detail, the computer files indicate that chunks of this major speech were drafted by Choi. These include the bright idea of Dresden as a model for Korea – even though the German process of unification by absorption was hardly likely to go down well in Pyongyang.
All leaders use speechwriters. George W Bush’s notorious “axis of evil” was dreamed up by a young Canadian, David Frum. But at least he was a White House staffer. Choi Sun-sil was officially nobody – yet to Park Geun-hye, she seems to have been everything.
Privy to secrets, drafting speeches: those are facts. There’s lots more dynamite in the files, but here we will focus on the DPRK angle. The Hankyoreh, Seoul’s main left-leaning daily, has posed two further questions, bearing on key decisions and the overall thrust of Park’s Nordpolitik.
Item: Was Choi Sun-sil behind the closing of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in February? A Hankyoreh headline on October 27 posed that question. The Unification Ministry has denied any such influence: well they would, wouldn’t they? The paper’s evidence is circumstantial, yet plausible in explaining this unexpected U-turn from Park’s previous efforts to save the Kaesong zone. I suggest you read both sides and form your own judgment.
The same article says Choi believed Korean unification was imminent: “within the next two years”. That claim is thinly sourced, to someone (anonymous, of course) who saw her often.
But if true, this could explain why in 2014 Park suddenly came up with the odd and counter-intuitive idea of unification as a bonanza or jackpot. According to the Hankyoreh no ministry had proposed this. Reframing unification as a happy contingency for the ROK left no space for the outreach to the DPRK offered in Dresden and Park’s earlier slogan of ‘Trustpolitik’.
This is the gravest crisis of Park Geun-hye’s presidency, which she possibly might not even now complete
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Anyone may change their mind, based on reason. But what if Choi’s views not only drove the President, but were themselves driven by cultic superstition?
This too is speculation, so far, but here again the evidence is compelling. It wasn’t the Hankyoreh but the conservative daily JoongAng Ilbo who noted that earlier this year the logo of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) abruptly changed. (Here’s the old one: Wikipedia hasn’t caught up yet, at this writing.)
The new emblem is a dragon, for which an old Korean word is Mireu. The JoongAng suggests that this symbolizes the Mi-R Foundation, set up by Choi, who – in another part of this vast and tangled thicket – is also under investigation for, I quote, “using the foundation to strong-arm conglomerates to make massive donations and then embezzling the money.”
Much more could be said. This is the gravest crisis of Park Geun-hye’s presidency, which she possibly might not even now complete. Whatever further revelations are forthcoming, already she is mortally weakened: rapidly becoming bereft of authority at home and of respect abroad.
And guess who’s gloating? No prizes. North Korean media usually wait a little before commenting on Southern politics, but this time they were quick to pounce.
As NK News noted on October 27 – with photos cheekily juxtaposing the chubby faces of Ms Choi and Kim Jong Un – the Party daily Rodong Sinmun opined that Park’s rule “faces de-facto collapse”. (They must have enjoyed wielding the C-word.) It’s hard to disagree with that assessment, alas. Other DPRK sources were ruder. “Chongwadae Witch Forsaken by Pro-Park Circle”, crowed KCNA.
Watch this space. This scandal is far from finished yet – even if Park Geun-hye might be.
Here is a major irony. One which Western media should ponder and be ashamed.Collapse? Regime change? Those terms are two a penny in talk of Korea. North Korea, that is. Never mind that after 70 years the DPRK is still going strong - wishful thinking rules.Yet the same papers that rush to publish any speculative tittle-tattle about North Korea tend to ignore the other Korea. Bad move, on
Aidan Foster-Carter is Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Sociology and Modern Korea at Leeds University in England. Educated at Eton and Oxford, he taught sociology at the Universities of Hull, Dar es Salaam and Leeds from 1971 to 1997. Having followed Korean affairs since 1968, since 1997 he has been a full-time analyst and consultant on Korea: writing, lecturing and broadcasting for academic, business and policy audiences in the UK and worldwide.