Monday, June 16, 2008

Why Obama is Bad for Korea

I started writing this post on May 28th, but after seeing television coverage of Obama this morning, I decided to finish it. There is a reference to Hillary, who currently isn't a factor. Just so you know.

In talking to many Koreans, the subject of the current US elections usually comes up at some point. Usually only two names are mentioned: Hillary and Obama. This can probably be attributed Korean press coverage of the race, which seems to have focused mainly on the undecided Democratic nominee. It seems that, at least among those who closely follow US politics, that the Korean desire is to see Obama rise to the presidency.

What initially triggered the post was Obama's letter to President Bush opposing the Korea Free Trade Agreement. He feels that the US won't get enough benefits from the deal. His particular target was at the automobile industry. Last week, he went further insinuating that the US should take a more retaliatory approach to trade with Korea.

A New York Times article quotes him as saying "if South Korea is selling hundreds of thousands of cars to the United States and we can only sell less than 5,000 in South Korea, something is wrong." Selling American cars in Korea is like selling Korean beef in Texas. The NYT article mentions GM's big stake in Korean car maker Daewoo (read: profits from Korean cars come home to America.) Both Obama and the NYT failed to consider the FDI Korea has put into the economy of the southern states with both Hyundai and Kia building plants. Had we followed Obama's theories on trade, there would be a lot of jobless people in Montgomery, Alabama.

The Wall Street Journal had an article that outlined the real costs of Obama's policies. At a time when Korea is opposing US beef imports, Obama feels they should be forced to take it. He is stoking the anti-trade fires on two continents with one issue. Not even Bush could be so divisive. If Obama's foreign policy is anything like his trade policy, he is stoking a fire that will likely burn him.

New York Times: Check Point - Obama Calls for Scrutiny of Trade Deals

Wall Street Journal: Change You'll Have to Pay For

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Fight Tonight

Tonight in Seoul there will be yet another protest against the importation of US beef. Lately it has been with more of a twist. The protesters are now generally protesting the general difficulties of life in Korea. Extremely high food and product prices due to tariffs and trade restrictions (ironic), insane oil prices, "world's best" high housing prices, lack of jobs, and low salaries with few benefits for those lucky enough to get a job. They are protesting a government that they feel is out of touch, a government that they feel is by the rich, for the rich. They are disappointed that this government hasn't brought a change, even though it has been in power only two months.

A few weeks ago I was talking to my co-teacher about how quickly Korea was changing. On almost every front change is happening at a pace that doesn't leave time for much reflection. This is on top of the aforementioned difficulties of living here. In talking to her, I postulated that youth protests, similar to those in France, US, and Latin America in 1968 might soon be occurring here in Korea. I didn't see it happening in the next few weeks.

At first I derided the beef protesters as morons who were letting xenophobia, emotionalism, ignorance trample over science, reason, and rationality. This was confirmed by talking to other Koreans who agreed that the protesters had a few legitimate points, but their methods were akin to using a sledgehammer to kill a fly.

Then I had a realization. They aren't only protesting beef. They are protesting the establishment. So forty years after the social revolutions in the west, it seems that Korea is having one of its own.

Add to the fact that June 10th is the anniversary of protests that led to the first directly elected president in Korea and you've got yourself a stew going. I just hope it doesn't boil over.