Friday, May 30, 2008

Mad cows, stubborn presidents

I've tried to stay away from the mad cow issue for a while now (both physically and intellectually) because you can read about it everywhere these days, but I thought I would post this article just for those of you who don't compulsively read the Hankyoreh like I do. I think the issue deserves a wider, critical reading which I don't have time to do. [Update: I've elaborated a little bit more on this issue in a reply to anonymous reader Scott on a previous post] Certainly there are those who want to pin it down to anti-americanism but I think the issue is much more complicated than that. Mostly it seems about the attitude of the president and ruling party both to principled negotiation and to protest. Theoretically I'm sure there are just as lax, or worse, safety regulations on some Korean or Chinese or Australian products but that doesn't seem to be the key issue, it's just that government seems so open about accepting a lower standard and repressing opposition to its position by brandishing the opposition as violent or leftists and arresting them. That the government has not realized that most of the people protesting come from a less institutionalized background than the unions or NGOs has really been one of their fatal flaws, nothing creates a generation of activists more than ideologically branding them 'communists' and them putting them in jail as seems to have happened to a number of people from high school students to housewives and retirees over the last few weeks. Oh well, that should provide a welcome antidote for Park Chung Hee nostalgia and further erode LMB's support base. Good work, and done in less than three months in office!

S. Korea resumes U.S. beef imports
Opposition parties still demanding that beef agreement be renegotiated

Minister of Food, Agriculture, Forest and Fisheries Chung Woon-chun on May 29 announced the conditions for the importation of U.S. beef and apologized about the government’s handling of negotiations on the import sanitary terms. The beef agreement was reached with the United States on April 18.

In reaction, opposition parties, including the United Democratic Party, declared to stage outdoor protests to nullify the announcement. Civic organizations are also strongly against the announcement, taking the next step in their fight against the resumption of U.S. beef imports by renewing their protests and continuing to call for renegotiation of the deal.

Chung pledged to step up efforts to fully manage quarantine inspection procedures and beef distribution. The ministry also requested that the Ministry of Public Administration and Security publish the announcement under the name of the related minister via a government newsletter. The newsletter will carry the announcement sometime around June 3.

As a result, Korea will begin importing U.S. beef with few limitations on the age of the animal and the kinds of animal parts allowed into the country, including bone-in meat and intestines.

According to the new import conditions, all animal parts from cattle younger than 30 months old, except for tonsils and the end of the small intestine, will be imported. For beef from cattle older than 30 months, Korea will import all animal parts, with the exclusion of seven specified risk materials known to be at higher risk for mad cow disease, such as back bones.

These changes are quite different from the original rules, which stipulated that only beef from cattle less than 30 months of age would be allowed. South Korea has banned imports of bone-in-beef for four and half years since 2003. U.S. beef imports have been banned completely since last October when bone fragments were found in a shipment of imported meat.

The final announcement contains the full text of the ROK-U.S. beef agreement, with the exchange of letters denoting U.S. recognition of Korea’s quarantine sovereignty attached. The exchange of letters was signed by trade representatives from South Korea and the United States during an additional round of negotiations earlier this month.

In consideration of the people’s concern about the safety of U.S. beef and the effect of the resumption of imports on South Korean livestock farmers, the ministry announced that all of the nation’s restaurants will be required to inform customers of the country of origin of all beef dishes.

Opposition parties and civic groups have renewed their protests against the government’s enforcement of the beef notification and are planning to take further steps to nullify it. The UDP issued a resolution on the same day the ministry made its announcement, saying that the only way to resolve the current crisis and satisfy the people’s demands is for the government to abandon its plan to enforce the notification and immediately begin renegotiations. “If the notification takes effect, we will stage all-out protests to nullify the beef deal,” the UDP said.

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  1. Jamie, don't you recognize my name and brash attitude? I'm not anonymous. Anyway, I've been going to the demos almost every night and anti-Americanism is not a part of the equation at least amongst the ordinary people I've spoken with and going by all the signs I've seen and slogans I've heard. As far as U.S. beef goes, the main issue everyone is hung up on is importing beef over 30 months old, that's really it. The main focus, however, has been against Lee Myung-bak, and then secondarily against the police as a symbol of power I suppose. But there seems to be little critique or consciousness of Lee's neo-liberal globalist agenda, which would include the KORUS FTA, so a part of me sees these protests as rather reactionary instead of driven by a well-articulated philosophical opposition to Lee's basic economic policies, and certainly no one is bringing up the grand canal, for example, or his policies against the poor here and urban development in Kangbuk and so on. I have also met a lot of people who voted for Lee Myung-bak at the demonstrations and they all say, "I was fooled by him and regret my vote now," but it was obvious last year what his agenda was so such people are not thinking about these issues very deeply. On the one hand, they voted for him because he would bring CEO-style efficiency and productivity to governance, on the other hand they are upset now because he is leading the government CEO-style now. So they voted for him because of his big-business corporatist methods and ideology, and now they against that approach a mere few months later. So there is a huge element of reaction here that troubles me, rather than people looking at the bigger picture here. The fact that mad-cow disease is the main hook they are hanging their opposition on shows how vague and short-sighted their opposition really is. At least they could worry about more serious concerns like unsafe U.S. beef produced by agribusiness and pumped full of all sorts of shit like antibiotics and hormones which is far more troubling in my opinion. The fact of the matter is that if Lee had relented and agreed to ban imports of US beef over 30 months, the protests would have stopped immediately, and his broader neo-liberal corporatist agenda would have continued unabated without significant oppostion because a majority of Korea voters are driven mainly by basic pocketbook issues. I predict that there will be not fundamental change on this issue or broader expansion of progressive opposition to the Lee/GNP government, and 6 months from now, it will be business as usual. That's what happens when a protest movement is fundamentally reactionary in nature -- it is shallow and will not last over time. Oh yeah, and the Hankyoreh still sucks!

  2. Ah, thought that was you. In regards to your last comment, thanks for the stats, I realize now that most of the arrests are 'breach of the peace' type detentions. I had thought that there were about 97 still in custody but I'm busy and not following this stuff to the T. Anyways, I don't want to exaggerate the police reaction under LMB to some sort of strict 'he's rolling back the clock' type analysis. It's impossible to go back to the PCH era now, but still, his attitude to the National Human Rights Commission and a host of other issues is disturbing. And he does seek to use the police more actively than before, part of this is also the fault of previous administrations which didn't do enough to de-politicize the police, especially in regards to labour.

    As for your other observations on this post, thanks for them, that was hunch but as I'm not in the country and busy with work it is hard for me to verify them. I'm really curious where all of this energy will go. Certainly out of reaction might come some analysis.

    Third, sure the Hankyoreh has issues, less issues than the mainstream papers but issues none the less. It's the closest thing to a Guardian UK that is translated in English however. Certainly it has some minjok nationalism with taints of the third way and occasionally some democratic socialism, but at least its available in English for outside observers.

  3. Oh also, what I think is interesting about the protests is how the government keeps trying to pin it on some leader. It would be their wet dream if they discovered Hanchongryeon or the KCTU behind it, but it doesn't work in this case. I guess official groups, if they are smart, should continue to keep their profiles low at the events and see where the mobilization takes them, rather than vice versa. The government seems like it would really like to pin it on someone right now, but the irony is the more they take that stance the more they alienate the people who are showing up only provoking people more to demonstrate.

  4. Jamie, there are some 1,900 civic groups involved in these demonstrations, the police will never be able to pin it down on any one group or single group of organizers. It's a very decentered movement as far as I can tell, and sometimes different groups don't trust each other while protesting at the same time and go off in their own respective directions.

    Anout the Hankyoreh, I just don't like hypocrites, either on the left or the right. At least with the Chosun Ilbo, you know it's conevervative so you just have to look beyond that to get your facts. In my experience, the journalists at the Chosun are far more professional than the Hankyoreh. A Korean radical friend of mine says Hankyoreh was formed by all the second-raters who couldn't hack it at the major dailies. Perhaps an exaggertion, but I do not think they are ready for prime-time yet, and in fact some of my old students at Hongdae said that they no longer read the Hankyoreh because it'a kind of lost its "cool factor" these days...