My Comments to al Jazeera TV on Park GH’s Inauguration as SK Prez


Despite the fact that Donald Rumsfeld supposedly wanted to bomb al Jazeera during the Iraq War as a jihadi propaganda machine, I have to say I find it a pretty good news source. It’s got a great documentary hustle that lazy incumbents like CNN don’t, and its Middle East coverage is far more balanced and fair than most Americans think.

Anyway, the vid is my quick thoughts on Park Geun Hye’s inauguration as South Korea’s new president. The quick sum: she can’t follow through on making Korea ‘happier’ unless she takes on the vested interests, especially the chaebol, central to her political coalition. I don’t think she can do that, and, honestly, I’m not even sure she wants to. So I would not expect anything big at home in her term; the right, the elderly, and business in Korea like the status quo, and they’re the ones that put her in office. And certainly, the social democratic policies of ‘economic democratization’ kicked around last year won’t happen meaningfully. That’s my prediction at least. I’ll have more in a few days when my contribution to a foreign ‘Korea analyst’ forum on PGH is published in the Korea Times.

For my previous TV appearances, go here.

6 thoughts on “My Comments to al Jazeera TV on Park GH’s Inauguration as SK Prez

  1. I wonder how the apathy of young voter’s plays into this. I know that the liberal parties largely split the vote this election and that essentially put them out of the race. But perhaps the rhetoric of breaking up Chaebols and fighting economic stratification would be taken more seriously if there didn’t seem to be a general air of disinterest among the younger generation. I might be overestimating the political apathy, but that’s a feeling I get on a very grass roots level with friends from all over Korea. The reasons are hard to pin down. Is it the compulsory military service that embitters them? The threat of nuclear attack? If taken seriously, one lives in perpetual fear. The logical alternative seems to be to tune out. Just some thoughts


    • Yeah, I think that is accurate. I would tag the apathy as the effect, and the cause would be economic and political oligarchy. Korea is run by a small, rather closed group of wealthy, highly inter-connected men (mostly) who live in Seoul. The rest of us are just orbiting the ‘Seoul-Republic,’ hoping somehow to break into the Kangam lifestyle. Hence the tuning out you mention. I make this argument at length in my forthcoming Korea Times piece.


  2. I think most Koreans think that if the chaebols are broken up (meaning stripped of their neo-feudal privileges), the whole economy would go down the toilet. Therefore they seem to think that they owe something (their souls?) to the chaebols.
    I don’t have it handy right now, but somewhere I’ve seen a statistic that shows the influence of chaebols on the SK economy. While they do contribute the majority to the GDP, they pay relatively few taxes and employ relatively even fewer people. So treating them like mortals wouldn’t kill the economy. Quite the contrary.


    • I agree completely. I too remember reading somewhere that chaebol make up something like 80% of Korea’s exports and 50% of GDP, but only 15% of employment.

      And I definitely agree that the chaebol have brainwashed the average in Korean into thinking 1) the economy would collapse without them, and 2) the chaebol are the standard bearers of Korean pride (‘look at the westerners using our products!’). Both of these claims are dubious. On 1, lots of countries have more level playing fields between huge firms and SMEs. Even Japan has been moving away from the kereitsu system in the last 20 years. And there is a lot of research in economics that shows how destructive oligopolization is. And 2 is just nationalistic hogwash that plays to national insecurity and vanity. Wth difference does it make if foreigners use an LG TV or not?


      • I might drift a little off topic with this one, but I’d like to go in deeper on the national pride/insecurity/vanity you’ve mentioned, because I think this is the key almost all actions on any level of Korean society.
        One blogger has diagnosed Korea with the national equivalent of the small man syndrome, which I find very accurate. For that one first has to understand the small man syndrome. I is often wrongly seen as just a inferior complex. A inferior complex means that small men see themselves inferior to tall man. The small man syndrome however describes the phenomena of small men thinking(!) that tall men think that small men are inferior.
        In this context Europeans (or whites/westerners, whatever you what to call them) are tall and Koreans are small. One might say the Japanese are also tall, but this is a whole other story. When Koreans see my European face – be it in Korea or elsewhere – they assume I think that Korea is a 2nd world dirthole. Seeing me owning a Korean/chaebol product is a huge relief for them because I must have recognized the true and glorious Korea. This also manifest in Koreans walking up to complete strangers, asking them persistently whether they like the local/national food, girls, scenery etc. Very awkward for the foreigners…
        As long as Koreans think that they have to prove themselves to Europeans, the chaebols will be seen a necessity to achieve that goal.
        Bottom line: Koreans need to relax and simply love themselves for who they are.


      • I think all that is very accurate. The chaebol slake a deep thirst for recognition, so they’re let off the hook all the time for their shenanigans. I wish I had enough training in psychology to write this up correctly, because like you, I think this insecurity is key to a lot of the way Koreans talk to foreigners. Where this insecurity becomes a problem is when Koreans refuse to accept criticism by foreigners – claiming instead we’re racist, don’t understand Korea, hate Asia, whatever. You can see this all over Arirang TV, which is a content wasteland because they simply refuse to air any criticism at all of Korea. The English-speaking print media here is somewhat guilty of the same thing. Even MOFAT white papers say one goal of Korean foreign policy is to ‘raise Korea to a culturally advanced level.’ There is so much insecurity and vanity (and, unfortunately, contempt for LDCs) packed into that one expression. I find this relentless nationalism, driven a by insecurity and vanity, frequently puts me in the situation you described – where I am expected to parrot back an ideologically positive portrait – the miracle on the Han, Dokdo is ours, Korean broadband is the best in the world, Korean food is the healthiest in the world… I tried to note this problem here:
        Good insights.
        > Date: Sun, 3 Mar 2013 13:07:53 +0000
        > To:


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