이명박 and US Beef vs. The People

When people at home in Canada hear about mad cow, they probably think about a few years ago when the US banned Canadian beef, resulting in some very hard times for Canadian beef farmers. Here, in South Korea, mad cow takes on a whole new meaning.

A photo outside 광화문 (Gwanghwamun) station
back in the fall.

It’s been in the international news a fair bit, and most recently on the CBC, there’s another article on the latest protest that took place in Seoul. US beef has been banned in South Korea since late 2003. As the new president of South Korea, 이명박 (Lee Myung-bak), took office in February this year, one of his first moves was to broker a trade deal with the US, part of which involved the resumption of beef imports. Ever since the announcement in April, there have been protests at the national assembly every single day, some numbering in the tens of thousands of people. Most of the protests have been largely peaceful, but as the first imports started arriving this past week, this latest protest this weekend involved a significant amount of violence. In anticipation, the government blocked off several city blocks – our subway train drove past the empty station underneath the blocked off area and 12 lane streets above were blocked with rows riot buses.

Again, outside 광화문 station at the same place with a few
protesters and riot buses blocking off the street.

The police closing off all access to the street now,
and watching overhead for any trouble.

A lot of people may be wondering what the big fuss is about and why people are so upset, as although mad cow can certainly be fatal, it carries a relatively small risk – as of April 2008, 163 people in Britain, and 37 elsewhere around the world have died because of it. Bad news? Absolutely. And this is to take nothing away from the worth of those 200 people who have died from mad cow, but there are a lot of other issues that don’t receive nearly the same kind of attention. Might I remind you that we currently live less than 60 kilometers from the world’s most heavily defended border. So these protests are taking place at the same time as negotiations and inspections are underway for the disarmament of North Korea’s nuclear program, thus starting the process of removing North Korea from the so-called “Axis of Evil”. North Korea’s NUCLEAR program.

A lot of people have thought that these protests are more than about just mad cow then, that it must be fueled by some sort of anti-American sentiment. While there is certainly no shortage of Koreans who have a distaste for American people and the American government, it goes beyond that. (A lot of Koreans base their opinions on the only contact that they have had with Americans, namely, the young, aggressive, and often irresponsible American soldiers who are stationed here.)

Koreans have a lot of social freedom. Civil rights, although not as extensive as those in Canada, have increased dramatically in the past decade or so. 이명박 is a conservative and one who, I am told, governs in a much more militaristic “because I said so” fashion than Koreans are used to. He acts without consulting the public and this, primarily, is the problem. You can’t give people freedom and then take it away. So people are protesting. They are not protesting US beef. They are not protesting against the US. They are protesting because of their dissatisfaction with 이명박. After winning the presidential election handily in December and taking office in February, his popularity has plummeted to 17% as of June 2008. Now you take a look at those numbers and still tell me that these protests are about anti-Americanism. It just so happens that US beef was the flashpoint.

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~ by dawseng on June 30, 2008.

3 Responses to “이명박 and US Beef vs. The People”

  1. Hey! I was there Saturday night! It was crazy! Never seen anything like it and doubt I ever will again. Got out of there before the water cannons and bus towing though…

  2. PS> Are you by chance “cbc.reader” in the comments section of the article?

  3. Hehe, nope. But I do happen to agree with his or her views.

    These photos are actually taken from a different night’s protest, but I totally would have loved to have been around to see the water cannons on Saturday, though preferably out of range of them…

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