Props to the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, for attending an official ceremony at the Gwangju National Cemetery commemorating the 33rd anniversary of the Gwangju Uprising. Park’s conservative predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, never could bring himself to do so. The May 18 Uprising occurred during the tenure of her father’s successor, Chun Doo-hwan, and also involved another future president, Roh Tae-woo. Between 144 and 165 civilians – depending on conflicting accounts – lost their lives when South Korean troops committed a government-launched massacre in response to the demonstrations on May 18, 1980.
Conservatives still haven’t recanted, and conspiracy theories have taken hold on the far right.
Still, there was some churlishness displayed all around.
Scott A. Snyder provides more grist for blaming structural alliance factors for South Korea’s recent embarrassing fumble on GSOMIA with Japan.
South Korea generally welcomes President Obama’s rebalancing policy toward Asia, although there have been concerns that a stronger, more “geographically distributed” U.S. presence might come at the expense of South Korea, and that U.S. fiscal constraints might presage tougher negotiations over South Korean support for the U.S. presence due to take place next year.
But an unanticipated second-order effect of the U.S. rebalancing strategy has been the U.S. desire to see greater “lateral” cooperation among close allies of the United States, including between Japan and South Korea. Although such cooperation seemed relatively easy in the immediate aftermath of North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong island in November 2010, when the U.S., Japanese, and South Korean foreign ministers met and issued a strong statement that suggested enhanced trilateral security cooperation, that momentum has not been enough to overcome deep-seated bilateral differences between Japan and South Korea over historical and territorial issues.
It’s fitting that ROK president, Lee Myung-bak, should tell Myanmar’s dissident leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, that “‘…democracy should never be sacrificed for economic development…Democracy is as important as the economy, and she completely agreed.'” Because, then, no one wonders why he would attend a ceremony at Naypyitaw lamenting the attempted assassination of a dictator by the North Koreans on October 9, 1983, and shirk the anniversary of the Gwangju Uprising on May 18, 1980.
At a ceremony attended by 2,500 people, Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik said, “We need to inherit the spirit of the May 18th uprising and establish higher level of democracy through communication and compromise instead of conflicts and opposition.”