Korea has been in an uproar over the beef clause in their recently signed Free Trade Agreement with the United States.
The newly elected President of South Korea, Myung Pak Lee, has been in office for a mere 109 days. In those 109 days, he approved the import of US beef against citizens’ wishes, the economy has gone to hell, his approval rating has gone from 86.3% to 19.4%, and the majority of the citizens are demanding his resignation.
Here is a timeline of recent events:
May 2, 2008 – A few thousand people, composed of mostly middle school and high school students, start a candlelit vigil to protest the US beef import. As one 6th grader put it, “I know there aren’t may confirmed cases of mad cow disease spreading from beef to humans, but there’s a chance. I don’t want to take that chance. And if it was completely safe, why aren’t any of the countries in the European Union importing US beef in fear of mad cow disease???”
May 17, 2008 – 20,000 protesters gather all over Korea to protest the import and demand the RESIGNATION OF PRESIDENT LEE AND HIS CABINET.
May 25, 2008 – Thousands of frustrated protesters start marching to the nations capital after the government ignores the candlelit vigils and protests.
May 31, 2008 – June 1, 2008 – 100,000 gather to participate in a candlelit vigil for the impeachment of Pres. Lee outside of the capital. South Korean police try to push the protesters back, beat them with armors, tear gassed them, and hosed them down using high pressure fire hoses. Countless people (businessmen, stay at home moms, college students, middle school and high school students, the elderly and even the disabled) are injured, many requiring emergency medical care.
June 3, 2008 – 100,000 people gather once again, even after the disaster that occurred just a couple days before.
June 10, 2008 – 100,000 gather in a candlelit vigil once again. At this point the police have calmed down due to media attention – both national and international.
Nobody has ever gotten sick from mad cow disease in The United States. The European Union doesn’t block mad cow because there have been far more documented incidents of Mad Cow in Europe than in the United States.
This mad cow scare has been an tactful and adroit ruse by the Korean media and protest websites in Korea, whose farmers will suffer immensely from the FTA. But just like with any Free Trade, some will suffer but it will benefit more, and Korea will have the right to compete in a global market just like everybody else. The U.S. is constantly losing jobs because of our massive Free trade agreements, yet we continually reform our market to adjust to the international markets who can provide much cheaper rice and clothing. Koreans are afraid of the change their country will have to perform.
My family living in Korea have been persecuted from this media scare. They are called “Mad Cows” when they walk the street, and drivers won’t stop when they see a white person crossing the street in Seoul. The “beef” clause was probably a mistake, but it is too late for the Korean government and the best they can do is force labels on beef that has passed the 36 month threshold.
The “values” Bush was talking about, were Lee’s economic values. Since the FTA will not hurt urban areas, the Koreans knew they were getting the FTA by voting for the former mayor of Seoul. Their democracy worked better than ours usually does. The problem with a uniform society like Korea is that people are very easily caught in waves. Like us, they’re stuck with who they voted for.
Personally, I don’t want the FTA with Korea. My LG phone is the worst phone I’ve ever owned, and the Hyundai car I bought was the worst car I ever owned. It would be torture to have to hear Korean pop while waiting in lines and I would find it a blessing to be as far away from the Korean soap Operas as humanely possible. When I visit Seoul next month, I’ll gladly join the Korean people in their anti-FTA protests, though I’ll probably get called “Mad Cow” and run over on my way to the protest.