President Lee has faced more perils than Pauline in recent weeks. The photo was taken in happier days, well before the beef agreement. This week he had to work through a cabinet restructuring, negotiations with Washington, the biggest in the string of beef demonstrations, and a truckers' strike.
Two delegations of Korean lawmakers and administrators were in Washington early in the week, meeting with their U.S. counterparts: Beef Delegations Ask U.S. Officials for Cooperation (Chosun Ilbo, June 11); SKorean delegates head to US to discuss beef deal (AFP, June 8) . The delegations reach a resolution of the issue: Legislators: U.S. negative on beef renegotiation with S Korea (China View, June 15).
Neither did Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon when he went to the U.S. at the end of the week to meet with Susan Schwab, the United States Trade Representative, "to press for additional safeguards against the supposed dangers of mad cow disease." (SKorea minister heads for US beef talks, more protests planned, AFP, June 13; U.S. to host S.Korean trade minister in beef row, Reuters, June 13). Before he became Trade Minister, Kim was the chief Korean negotiator of the trade agreement. He was to meet Schwab Friday night in Washington, and the meetings were expected to go into the weekend. The Bush Administration has been refusing to renegotiate the beef agreement, but Kim is looking for some sort of voluntary limits on U.S. exports of older beef (thought to present a greater risk of mad-cow disease). At a news conference before he left, Kim explained some of the issues that needed to be worked through (Korea, U.S. Puzzling Out Beef Deal Formalities ):
“Our aim is to restore the trust of consumers, and a government guarantee of some form is needed in the process,” Kim said. “Too much government intervention could cause international trade disputes, so the best way would be to generate a similar effect without undermining the credibility of the Korean government,” said Kim. The Korean and U.S. governments have reportedly reached a consensus that if exporters and importers agree voluntarily to forgo shipments of American beef from cattle older than 30 months, the two governments will guarantee the deal. The two sides are still working to find a way to do this without violating World Trade Organization regulations.
Kim said a written guarantee to back an agreement made between private parties creates problems. If the two governments do decide to guarantee the agreement by official diplomatic document, it might violate WTO rules by directly interfering with independence of the private sector. A verbal guarantee is an option, but that might not win the trust of Koreans, so the two governments are thinking of a written guarantee in a form other than an official diplomatic document that will not carry the signatures of government authorities. The two sides judge that an indirect expression such as, “the U.S. government confirms and respects voluntary restriction in the private sector” would not breach the WTO regulations.
A unilateral statement by the U.S. government, or a joint statement by both the Korean and the U.S. governments are also being considered as an option. If the U.S. government adheres to its original position that it is difficult to announce the guarantee, the Korean government is pondering making a unilateral announcement after receiving a written or verbal guarantee from the U.S.
News reports on Sunday night (Monday in Korea) say that Kim and Schwab failed to reach an agreement: US, South Korean officials end beef talks (FOSTER KLUG, AP, June 15).
The top U.S. and South Korean trade envoys broke off talks Sunday without resolving a crisis over the resumption of American beef shipments that has shaken South Korea's pro-U.S. government.
South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon, who flew into Washington on Friday for discussions, was returning home, U.S. Trade Representative spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel said.
Kim and Susan Schwab, the U.S. trade envoy, held "frank and candid discussions" Friday and Saturday, Hamel said, but, "in order to find a mutually acceptable solution, both sides need more time to look into technical issues."
She said officials from the countries will stay in contact.
The talks, which focused on the importation of U.S. beef from cattle below 30 months of age, came as thousands of people protested in Seoul, demanding that a beef import deal settled in April be renegotiated and urging South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to resign.
Lee has vowed not to allow the import of beef from cattle older than 30 months. Scientists think infection levels of mad cow disease increase with age.
The South Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the "two sides agreed to cooperate to produce a solution that can satisfy each other." Seoul and Washington needed more time to work out effective measures for beef imports, the ministry said.
The Bush administration has said that it will not renegotiate an accord that was supposed to have settled a major irritant in ties between the allies. But Washington has said it supports beef packaging labels that would show the ages of slaughtered cows.
Lee said he has received a positive reply from the U.S. on measures under which the American beef industry would voluntarily not ship meat from cattle older than 30 months. Lee called the voluntary restraint the most rational measure to resolve the beef dispute.
In the U.S., Congressmen were divided on voluntary restraints. Max Baucus of Montana said a deal was a deal, but John Thune of South Dakota was willing to accept voluntary restrictions on beef over 30 months old as a temporary, confidence building device: U.S. Lawmakers Divided Over Voluntary Restraint (Dong-A Ilbo, June 13).
Jumping back to earlier in the week: on Tuesday morning Lee's cabinet offered to resign: South Korean cabinet offers to resign (Choe Sang-Hun, International Herald Tribune, June 10, 2008). As of Sunday, this was still up in the air, although the speculation was that Lee would take advantage of the resignations for a reshuffle. It's possible that Lee could turn to a rival GNP party leader, Park Geun-hye, daughter of the former dictator, as a prime minister: S.Korea's troubled president seeks rival as PM (Lee Suwan, Reuters, June 11).
Calling for her help now can be seen as a humbling admission that he needs her strong network of supporters and skill at managing political affairs to fix his government, analysts said....
Park, a former GNP chair and daughter of an assassinated dictator, is expected to bring a steadying hand to Lee's government, roundly criticised for bungling the U.S. beef import deal and being out of touch with public sentiment, analysts said.
Relations between Lee and experienced GNP insider Park have been frosty since the two battled it out last year for the party's presidential nomination....
The post of prime minister has mostly been ceremonial, but under previous president Roh Moo-hyun, the premier became the point person for pushing legislation through parliament.
(Lee Gwang-ho/Newsis, via Reuters)
Tuesday night there were large demonstrations in Seoul and other cities. Organizers had been looking for a one million person turnout and building the historical symbolism of the pro-democracy movement, which began on June 10, 1987. Here's an early story: Seoul protest threatens to topple government (Choe Sang-Hun, International Herald Tribune, June 10).
The rally had an almost festive mood, with antigovernment slogans reverberating through the city center well past midnight. Loudspeakers blared the songs South Koreans sang during their struggle against the military dictators of the 1970s and '80s. Large balloons carried banners that read "Judgement day for Lee Myung Bak" and "Renegotiate the beef deal." One widely distributed leaflet said: "Mad cow drives our people mad!"
South Korea banned American beef imports in December 2003 after a case was reported in the United States.
The police estimated the crowd at 100,000, while organizers claimed it amounted to 700,000.
The protesters appeared to encompass a broad spectrum of society: students, union members, Roman Catholic nuns, office workers in neckties, and mothers and fathers holding hands with small children.
Up to 21,000 police officers were present, barricading roads leading to the presidential Blue House with buses and shipping containers. Protesters spray-painted the barricades with anti-Lee slogans.
The agriculture minister, Chung Won Chun, visited the rally to offer an apology in a speech, but protesters quickly surrounded him chanting "traitor" and he quickly left.
Kim Jae-kyoung reports for the Korean Times on a meeting of economists Friday, under the auspices of the Korean International Economic Association: Economists Dissect MBnomics (Korea Times, June 13). These evidently critqued the Lee Administration for its weak won policy, promotion of free trade, and beef agreement. Both of the latter were picked up from the previous Roh Administration and I'm not clear how the Lee policy was different. The economists did criticize Lee for his approach:
The Lee administration has drummed up its efforts to form FTAs with multiple countries at the same time. But while pushing for these, it did not listen to the Korean people and follow proper procedure.
The government belittled the importance of public consensus and procedures, which triggered a strong backlash from the public. In particular, it did not secure transparency in proceeding with resumption of U.S. beef imports.
The U.S. beef import issue has broken up the nation into several factions, which has caused astronomical social costs for the economy. A key factor behind this mishap is the Lee administration's lack of communication and expectation management skills.
Economists participating in the seminar stressed that forming FTAs with multiple countries is not a panacea as it can instead cause the country to become beset by numerous regulations created by multiple international deals.
The actual comments at this seminar were probably more nuanced than this story from the Times suggests. This story provides quite a bit more detail; the title only refers to the comments of one of the three economists cited: 'US Is Not a Model for Korea', June 13).
On Friday the 13th, Korean truckers went on strike against high fuel prices and for higher wages. On Monday the 16th, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions was also poised to announce a strike vote. : South Korea strike spreads; ports clogged (Reuters, June 16).
Lots of articles are placing the beef issue in a broader context, as a sort of trigger setting off expressions of public concern about a variety of issues. Evan Ramstad, for example: Beef Protests Put South Korea Cabinet Into Turmoil (Wall Street Journal, June 11):
Initially, the public was concerned about the safety of U.S. beef, amid sensational media allegations. Some made the false claim that Americans didn't eat the kind of beef being exported to South Korea. Soon opposition-party politicians and activist groups seized on the issue to fan dissent over many of Mr. Lee's policies.
Since taking office in late February, he pushed plans to downsize government offices, privatize several state-run companies and force schools to spend more time teaching English. In doing so, he alienated three powerful constituencies: bureaucrats, trade unions and teachers.
"All the complaints just exploded at once," said Choi Jin, director of the Institute of Presidential Leadership, a research center in Seoul. "If you try to understand [the outrage] with only the beef issue, you cannot understand it."
The Lee photo is from his web site, via Asia Portal (http://www.asiaportal.info/Newsroom/InFocus/INFOCUS2008/INFOCUS2008WEEK09/).