Yoon Chang-jung scandal

With regard to the alleged sex assault by Yoon Chang-jung, a former presidential spokesman of South Korea, the U.S. Department of State said it was not a matter the department would get involved with. This alleged crime by a presidential spokesman, a national shame to South Korea, occurred during President Park Geun-hye’s visit to the U.S., which was her first official visit to a foreign country as president. When the victim, a female intern for the Korean Embassy to the U.S., filed a complaint with the D.C. police, the police were originally going to treat the incident as a misdemeanor. As the Korean press began to expand its coverage on the case and questions began pouring in, the police just carefully repeated that they had started an investigation. From the start, it appeared the police would rather not get too involved.

Then, Yoon’s press conference, after his firing, stirred up controversy. He himself caused trouble when things could have just settled down quietly. I was stunned at how he could lie with a straight face and desperately try to justify his behavior, while the eyes of so many people were on him. The New York Times reported that Yoon was the most controversial appointee of Park, and that he viciously attacked those who opposed her candidacy, calling them “political prostitutes” during the presidential campaign. It also reported a comment from the Democratic Party that the scandal was a “foreseeable tragedy.”

It seems that this episode, which was initially to be treated as a misdemeanor, will cause unpredictable ripple effects. The Korean press is tenaciously following the case and the Korean government has requested a quick and thorough investigation. This enormous scandal, which was committed by a high-ranking government official who accompanied the president to her first summit meeting, will keep coming up in the domestic media, and political attacks will continue until the case is closed. There is a great possibility that a congressional hearing will be held on the case.

There was also a similar recent incident in the U.S., although the nature of the incident was different from Yoon’s scandal. In April last year, a team of Secret Service agents was sent to Colombia for a summit meeting between the U.S. and Colombia. They were sent earlier to prepare for security measures but, on the night of their arrival, they brought in prostitutes to a drinking party in their hotel. This could have ended quietly, but a quarrel with the prostitutes over prices led to the world finding out about the incident. This incident happened less than 24 hours before the arrival of President Barack Obama. The team leader of the Secret Service immediately sent back the six agents involved in the incident and brought new agents promptly. The U.S. press praised the Secret Service, which responded quickly and carried out security measures in the worst possible situation.

The Yoon scandal could also have been minimized if it was handled promptly from the beginning. What makes me angry, more than anything else, is that Yoon would not have dared to treat the intern as he did if she were white instead of a Korean-American. He must have thought lightly of her because she is Korean. As a Korean-American, this makes me furious.

Fortunately, the public opinion in the U.S. is that the scandal, no matter how big it may be blown up, will not affect the results of Park’s successful visit at all. The U.S. press regarded as a great gesture from Park that she apologized to the victim and her family, as well as the Korean people. Many also hold the opinion that the result of the police investigation, no matter what it may turn out to be, will not hurt Park’s image at all both in the U.S. and Korea.

I hope that people will not blow up this scandal into a political battle. The new administration is still in its early stage. There are too many things to do to spend time on a political battle over this shameful scandal.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Kim Chang Joon US-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website at http://www.jayckim.com.

New leadership in Democratic Party

A few days ago, the Democratic Party (DP), which is the main opposition party in Korea, elected a new leadership. Unlike the flying water bottles and raised voices of the past, the leadership election was conducted in a civilized manner. One thing worth reporting was that the one who got the most votes among the four leadership council members of the party had just one year of political experience. What’s more, there was not one leadership council member from a Honam district (located in the southwest of the peninsula). This result gives us hope that the practice of provoking regionalism, a factor that has dominated elections for a long time, might be disappearing.

I have high hopes from the fact that Assemblyman Kim Han-gil, who is known to be independent of any of the factions within the party, was elected as the party leader in a decisive fashion. This may be a sign that the DP is changing into a future-oriented party, breaking away from its factional politics of the past, where each faction (like the pro-Roh faction or the non-mainstream faction) only pursued its own interests. Furthermore, I was impressed when Kim said in his acceptance speech that the party would cooperate with the administration and the ruling party on national security issues while fulfilling its role of keeping them in check and balance as the main opposition party. This is certainly a change to the usual image of an opposition party, of often unreasonable opposition and criticism.

Kim said in a press conference after his victory, “It is hard to justify North Korea’s holding the Gaeseong Industrial Complex hostage with any justifiable reason.” It has been a long time since the DP last stood up and criticized the North, and I hope this was a message to pro-North Korea lawmakers that still have influence in the opposition party. I want to see the DP stop being swayed by a tiny number of radical pro-North members and show the necessary leadership to change them into patriots that love South Korea. From now on, I hope the DP, as a pure liberal party, will show us great two-party politics between conservatives and liberals like America’s successful two-party system.

However, I also hope the party will stop trying to unify the scores of small opposition parties, the only purpose of which is to win an election. It does not fit with a major opposition party. In the United States, there are many cases where Republican lawmakers side and vote with their Democratic colleagues. I was one of those Republicans. It is never the case that only conservatives worry about national security. What Kim said was right. There cannot be a distinction between the ruling and opposition parties on the issues of national security or national interests, and during a national crisis.

In the U.S., President Bill Clinton pushed forward the North American Free Trade Agreement even though he was a Democrat. He did this because he believed that, even though a free trade agreement was traditionally a Republican policy, it would advance the national interest.

The change of leadership in the DP gave me a strong impression that the Republic of Korea is really changing into an advanced country, not just in its economy, but also in its politics. It is still fresh in my memory that just a few months ago, a presidential candidate with less than 1 percent of public support boasted at a presidential debate that she was running just to prevent then-candidate Park Geun-hye from winning. Now, changes are being made in candidate qualifications for presidential debates to prevent any presidential candidates with less than 1 percent of support from participating, and also on the way out is a law that gave 2.3 billion won of taxpayers’ money as government aid to a party just because it placed a candidate in the presidential election. It appears everything is falling back to its place.

I believe that, soon in South Korea, people will stop lamenting that the backward politics of their country holds back its economy. I genuinely congratulate the birth of the reformed DP, thinking of Psy’s cheer for South Korea while dancing in front of so many Americans.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Kim Chang Joon US-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website at http://www.jayckim.com.

Korea-US Atomic Energy Agreement

Under the 1956 Atomic Energy Agreement between the Republic of Korea and the U.S., Korea is prohibited from enriching and reprocessing nuclear fuels. The prohibition was to prevent nuclear materials from being used for a military purpose (the development and production of nuclear weapons), and to stop the possible leaking of such nuclear technology to terrorist countries ― in particular, to North Korea. This agreement, amended in 1974, will expire in March 2014. But over the last 57 years, the nuclear energy industry has grown rapidly, to the point where North Korea has already developed nuclear weapons and successfully launched intercontinental ballistic missiles several times. Thus, the concern about leaking nuclear technology to North Korea has lost its meaning.

Though the U.S. promised South Korea to provide nuclear deterrence against a possible nuclear threat from North Korea, I think that it is time for South Korea to express its intention to develop nuclear technology. In other words, it is desirable for the country to have rational discussions with the U.S. on its wishes to enrich uranium and reprocess spent nuclear fuel because North Korea cannot be trusted. But it is not desirable to show any emotional expression or give the impression that the prohibition is infringement of sovereignty and excessive U.S. interference.

In this respect, it is a good thing that the two countries just agreed on the two-year extension of the agreement. Some U.S. analysts suggested to extend the agreement for five to 10 years or to establish a facility controlled by multiple nations in South Korea. There were also moderates who claimed that the U.S. should cautiously approach the issue of extension in light of the alliance between the two countries, and that the U.S. should actively take initiatives to allow China to play a central role in solving the North Korean nuclear problem. I believe that the two-year extension is a good thing, and that South Korea should use wise diplomacy with the U.S. on nuclear issues over the next two years.

The International Nuclear Cooperation Report pointed out that South Korea should look at the diplomatic achievements that Japan has shown in its nuclear cooperation with the U.S. during the last 50 years. Japan has been highly rated by the international community and the U.S. for its transparency of nuclear energy development. But Japan was also able to operate its reprocessing facilities after negotiations with the U.S., which has been against nuclear proliferation. We should study how Japan, under the same restrictions as ours, was able to achieve this trust. One major problem we have is that our Atomic Energy Commission primarily consists of the politicians with a prime minister as its chairman. Instead of criticizing the U.S. for not allowing our country to reprocess nuclear waste without its permission, what is needed is nuclear diplomacy, with a nuclear energy commission of experts that can persuade the U.S. and the international community within two years.

Experts predict that Asia will have more than half of the nuclear plants in the world by 2015, due to the rapid growth of the nuclear energy industry in the region. Even though the international community knows that Japan already possesses plutonium in tens of tons, it does not doubt the non-proliferation policy of Japan. Under the circumstances where the whole world, led by the U.S., tries to restrict nuclear proliferation, it is wise to refrain from claiming that the U.S. is violating the sovereignty of the Republic of Korea. It is because nothing will be solved by doing so.

To get what we want in the next two years, we need trust from the international community. Currently, our country has 23 nuclear plants in operation, and they generate more than 30 percent of the total electricity consumed in the country. To get what we want in the next two years, I hope that the Atomic Energy Commission will be reorganized with various experts in nuclear energy, for we all know the importance of nuclear energy, which has been a driving force for our economy. And it is desirable to let the commission lead diplomatic efforts toward the international community. I think that the two-year extension contains a message that the restriction can be removed within two years.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Kim Chang Joon US-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website at http://www.jayckim.com.