The first is an opinion piece, I guess, from the Vancouver Sun. Not sure what impact it will have because most North Americans are totally unaware that anything over here is happenign at all. An excerpt:
Since they ended the era of a grim succession of dictators in the 1980s South Koreans have embraced democracy and the right to protest with an enthusiasm that sometimes strays into hysteria.
That certainly seems to be the case with the beef ban situation. Public rage that Lee is risking their health and their lives in an unseemly attempt to suck up to Bush is being fed by a media that revels in sensationalism without any pretense at balanced or professional journalism.
One story in the last few days, for example, said that cheap, poisonous American beef would be used for school lunches. A weeping 13-year-old was quoted lamenting that she had worked so hard to get good grades and now she was going to die.
The Internet has been at least as bad at gestating rumours into perceived fact at record-breaking speed.
Late last week an understandably exasperated American ambassador to Seoul, Alexander Vershaw, commented, quite mildly under the circumstances, "We hope that Koreans will begin to learn more about the science and about the facts of American beef and that this issue can be addressed constructively."
Well, it was as though he'd spat on the South Korean flag.
Sohn Hak-kyu, chairman of the United New Democratic Party, for one called Vershaw "impolite and arrogant."
You'll remember that Sohn translated the statement wrong, making Koreans believe Vershbow---not Vershaw, lol---said Koreans need to learn more about science, not THE science.
Yesterday I posted a link on Dave's to a AP story, via Fox News, but I'm pretty sure it was a different one than what's there now. Today the story is about the Prime Minister and other officials who may resign over this fiasco.
Several of South Korea's top political leaders, including Prime Minister Han Seung Soo, his Cabinet and top aides to President Lee Myung Bak, may tender their resignations next week over the public outrage at a government decision to resume imports of U.S. beef, Yonhap News Agency reported Sunday.
Fox News also ran a few pictures, including one taken in Jeonju, meaning the AP either had a correspondent there, or they borrowed it from a Korean site.
China View, among other places, tells us that police are on high alert in preparation for tonight's (June 10) huge rally in Seoul. An excerpt:
Protesters nationwide are expected to start at 7 p.m. to mark the 21st anniversary of the June 10 democracy protest, according to the People's Association Against Mad Cow Disease. The historic demonstration in 1987 led the then military regime to adopt a direct presidential election system and conduct political reforms.
"The Lee Myung-bak administration should look directly to the infuriated heart of the people that has made the nation a sea of candles and humbly listen to their voices and immediately set out for renegotiation," the civic coalition said in a statement.
Organizers have declared "non-violence and peace" as the core principles of the protests, but the increasing emergence of labor unions during demonstrations has raised tension on the streets.
Following the death of a blue-collar worker on Monday who immolated himself protesting the beef imports, truck drivers went on strike and took to the streets. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the more radical of the country's two umbrella labor unions, said about 100,000 members will participate in Tuesday's rally.
[Edit: As commenter Matt points out, the man who died in Jeonju is not the same man whose self-immolation was reported earlier this week, so this next paragraph is a bit off.]
If you'll recall, the initial reports said that the men set themselves on fire to protest the compensation they received from the government after being forced off their land, but the media switched it to render the self-immolations as anti-beef demonstrations:
Clearly South Koreans do not need to learn a little more about the science of anything, and to suggest otherwise is an insult to the entire peninsula. Mr. Lee (이병렬) here could not be reached for comment on this matter because he's dead.
I reckon the police'll need to be more than alert to deal with mobs like we saw this past weekend, when protestors attacked riot police with sticks, bats, and shovels. But---I hope---these hooligans are the exception, not the rule, and I'm pretty sure that the candle is still the implement of choice at these things. Besides having candlelight rallies all over this country, the Chosun Ilbo tells us that Koreans have been holding vigils in foreign countries, too.
A Korean news source says that this is just the beginning as rallies among Koreans abroad are being held in London, Frankfurt, and even Sao Paulo, Brazil. Protesters abroad reportedly said that they will continue to hold such gatherings until the much-debated beef issue is resolved at home.
Um, at "home"? Ah, that's right, I forgot . . . Anyway, earlier we saw Mad Bullshiters protesting atop a McDonald's sign, and if I were generous with my credit I'd say that the protestors were hoping to dissuade McDonald's from using American beef when imports resume. More likely, though, they were protesting American beef at an American restaurant that symbolizes American culture and cultural imperialism. The Chosun Ilbo has an article up today about the McDonald's controversy which, as you can guess by now, emerged from misinformation on the part of a government official and which spread via an undiscerning media. An excerpt:
McDonald’s is trying to steer clear of inadvertent involvement in the U.S. beef furor that has swept Korea, after the New Right National Union apologized for a remark by its secretary general Lim Heon-jo that dragged the global hamburger chain into a matter where it appears wholly blameless.
Speaking on an MBC TV talk show last week, Lim said hamburgers sold at McDonald's in the U.S. “are made of beef from cattle older than 30 months as well as intestines.”
That sparked something of a panic in Korea amid already tense public sentiment. Customers gave McDonald’s outlets a wide berth the following day.
McDonald's Korea was forced to post a notice on its homepage the next day denying the allegation, saying that according to official confirmation from McDonald's America, even hamburger patties sold in the U.S. are made from American beef from cattle under 30 months according to McDonald's global standards. “McDonald's Korea has been using beef from Australia and New Zealand in its products since 1995,” it added.
Anyway, back to the topic of Mad Bull Shit in the international media, two lengthy articles came out in the past couple days. One is from Business Week and is called "Korea's U.S. Beef Brouhaha." An excerpt of the article, which focuses on the negative effect this crisis will have on President Lee's mandate:
Could the tensions develop into a full-blown trade war? It's possible, says Han Sangwan, chief economist at think-tank Hyundai Research Institute in Seoul. The beef dispute could become a bigger issue if it's taken up during this year's U.S. Presidential election. The Korean public could inflame tensions, too. "Unless the U.S. shows flexibility over its beef exports to address Koreans' concerns over food safety, a wholesale boycott of U.S. products could follow," says Han. "And that could trigger protectionist retaliation." The collapse of an FTA would mean a "serious chasm between the two," he adds.
Jason Strother had an article in the World Politics Review yesterday, too, titled "South Korean Hysteria Over U.S. Beef Could Endanger Free Trade Agreement." God bless him for the article and for using a map with "Sea of Japan." Anyway, the introduction:
Massive demonstrations have forced South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to renege on a trade agreement made with Washington in April. Lee had pledged to lift his country's five-year-old ban on American beef that was first imposed after an outbreak of mad cow disease in Washington state.
For the past month, tens of thousands of South Koreans have held almost nightly candlelight vigils to express their opposition to the beef deal. They say Lee has put the nation's health at risk because too many restrictions were eased on cow parts that they think are more likely to transmit the brain-wasting virus.
The demonstrators were spurred on by sensational media reports and Internet rumors that schoolchildren would be served unsafe cuts of beef and also that Koreans are genetically more susceptible to contracting mad cow disease than Americans. It's become a case of widespread hysteria.
He also addressed the role of anti-Americanism in fanning the flame, something quite obvious to so many of us:
It's not unusual for South Korean politicians to use the U.S. as a pinching bag when the going gets tough.
In 2002, then-candidate for president Roh Moo-hyun came out of nowhere to ride to prominence the wave of anger that followed the accidental deaths of two Korean teenagers who got caught up in an American military training exercise.
Last summer, when a group of South Korean Evangelical Christians on a mission trip in Afghanistan were kidnapped by the Taliban, Seoul attempted to dump responsibility on the U.S. as President Roh admitted he was powerless to broker a resolution.
President Lee Myung-bak , who is widely seen as pro-American, is unlikely to resort to the same tactics. But as his enemies become emboldened by voters' fury, playing upon Lee's cozy relationship with Washington could be a way for his political opponents to degrade his popularity even further.
I'd like to see a little more attention paid to the role the Korean media has played in creating and continuing this panic, how certain groups have used sensational accounts of Mad Cow Disease to bootstrap their political agendas onto issues of public safety, and how misinformation still rules the day. For the time being, though, the local blogs remain the best source of information on the Mad Bull Shit front.
* Update: I should point out that the Washington Post ran a story last week that contains the notoriously groan-worthy quotation from a 13-year-old kid:
Cha Yoon-min, 13, attended the protest with his mother, a lawyer in Seoul. "I am afraid of American beef," he said. "I could study hard in school. I could get a good job and then I could eat beef and just die."
I first saw it on The Marmot's Hole and thought he translated it from a Korean source.