Saturday, May 20, 2006

Fearing another Hong Kong?

Here's an intesting story from today's Korea times. If you followed our previous posts on the Hong Kong protests in December, you'll see that the Korean government has a history of being anxious about its protestors travelling. I'm still settling down into my research role here but I'll try to provide more analysis on this issue and more in the coming weeks. -J

Activists Urged to Scrap Anti-FTA Rally in US
By Jung Sung-ki

Staff Reporter

The government on Friday urged the country’s labor organizations not to stage a rally in the United States against a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) between the two

In a joint statement issued by five cabinet
ministers concerned with the FTA, the government denounced plans by
labor groups to dispatch a group of protesters to America.

The ministers said it would seriously damage the country’s international reputation and relations between the two allies.

They said they were also concerned that the
anti-FTA protest could cause inconvenience to all Korean people as it
may have a negative effect on the Seoul’s efforts to negotiate a
visa waiver program with Washington.

``We sincerely call on the organizations
preparing the protest rally to immediately scrap the plan, which is
damaging our national image and causing concern among the
public,’’ said the statement read by Minister of Foreign
Affairs and Trade Ban Ki-moon.

Other signatories were Deputy Prime
Minister-Minister of Finance and Economy Han Duck-soo, Justice Minister
Chun Jung-bae, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Park Hoong-soo and
Labor Minister Lee Sang-soo.

``We urge the groups to express their position
and views about the FTA negotiations through peaceful and legitimate
processes,’’ Ban said.

The statement came as a group of South Korean
activists are planning to stage a rally protesting the scheduled
Korea-U.S. FTA meeting in Washington next month.

The group consists of members of various labor
and farmers' organizations, including the progressive Korean
Confederation of Trade Unions and the Coalition of Farmers'
Association, which sent a group of protesters to Hong Kong last
December to protest against a meeting of World Trade Organization (WTO)

The statement said it is
``undesirable’’ for a handful of interest groups to
entirely oppose a crucial trade agreement for the future growth of the
country’s economy just because the pact is expected to create a
few problems.

``Free trade agreements are fast becoming a
global trend that no one can resist. The government has been working to
sign free trade agreements (with other nations) to prepare for the
changing global circumstances and to further advance our products in
the world market,’’ it said.

The statement said further liberalization, or an
FTA with the United States, was inevitable for South Korea, which
depends on foreign countries for more than 70 percent of its economy
and other affairs.

More than 180 FTAs have been signed between
countries worldwide and over 50 percent of global trade is now
conducted between nations relying on such trade agreements, officials

Seoul and Washington jointly announced the start
of negotiations for an FTA in February, while setting the deadline for
the negotiations as June 2007. The first round of talks is to be held
next month.

In a related development, the government has
requested Washington's cooperation and leniency regarding the South
Korean protesters.

Washington replied that it will try to explain
U.S. law on street rallies to the South Koreans and that the United
States guarantees protest rallies as long as they are peaceful, said
Chung Dal-ho, ambassador for overseas and Korean affairs at the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Chung said the government cannot and does not
wish to block peaceful rallies by South Koreans in other countries, but
said the ministers' joint statement is a ``sincere
request’’ for the organization to stop the plan because its
rally is highly likely to become violent considering its past record.

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