02 December 2004

The Korea That Can Say "Roh"

In comments that I thought would get more airtime inside and outside Korea, President Roh said in Britain this week that “No country” can enforce an option unacceptable to the South Korean people to resolve the dispute over North Korea's nuclear program, because South Korea’s “national capacity guarantees this.” Roh added that Seoul (or HIS government) “will exercise a say that befits [South Korea’s] national capacity and status."

The comments are just the latest in Roh’s continued play on South Korean nationalism as a tool of legitimacy and a projection for a more independent (militarily and politically) and economically powerful South Korea. To some extent, Roh is pressing for South Korea’s Juche – the self-reliance of the Koreans to guide their own future on an economic, political, security and unification level. Roh has also accelerated Seoul’s plans for a more independent defense posture, again a mirror (though somewhat less polished) of North Korea’s Songun politics, the “military first” idea that without a strong and independent military, political and economic strength and independence are nigh impossible and certainly un-insurable.

I have been watching these trends for some time in Korea, subtle undercurrents in the social psyche, stirred by the collapse of the Soviet Union, the capitalismization of China, the shifting U.S. defense posture, the economic boom of the early 1990s, the economic bust of the late 1990s, the “Korean wave” of culture spreading through Asia, the inter-Korean summit of 2000, and many other issues.

All of this is the basis of the book I am writing in my spare time (yes, I know there is no such thing as spare time, and yes, I know everyone is writing a book), which will be titled The Korea That Can Say "Roh" - a clever play on words of Ishihara’s book if I do say so myself, and one intended not to be a comparison of Korea and Japan as much as to chronicle and explain how Roh is a RESULT of changes in Korean society, not the DRIVER of such changes.

Over time I plan to post bits of the text, the outlines and the like, and any comments/observations will be appreciated and noted.

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