Thursday, January 15, 2004

A Troubling Development in South Korea

This is not good news. Roh Moo-Hyun appears hellbent on indulging his anti-American instincts at just about the worst possible time. The DPRK's leadership will no doubt be pleased by this latest turn of events.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea's foreign minister resigned Thursday because of a rift between ministry officials and President Roh Moo-hyun over the country's close ties to the United States.

The division comes at a critical time as South Korea and the United States wrangle with North Korea over its nuclear weapons programs and discuss sending South Korean troops to help the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

Roh accepted the resignation of Yoon Young-kwan, saying the Foreign Ministry was not fully backing his administration's policy of independence from Washington. The human rights lawyer-turned-politician took office a year ago promising not to ``kowtow to the Americans'' and gain equal footing with the country's top ally.

``Some Foreign Ministry officials have failed to shake off the old foreign policy that tended to depend on foreign countries, failed to fully understand the spirit and course of the (Roh) government's new foreign policy of independence, and repeatedly made remarks that went against national interests in private and public occasions,'' said Roh senior aide Jeong Chan-yong.

Local media reported that several officials in the ministry's elite North American affairs division, which handles U.S. relations, criticized Roh's policy as unrealistic.

Jeong said the foreign minister resigned to take responsibility for failing to rein in those critics.

Roh said Wednesday he would transfer those officials who criticized his foreign policy.

``Several times, they have been asked to follow the president's policy,'' Roh said. ``Some of them responded with objections to the president's foreign policy and expressed their discontent with insulting comments.''

The Yonhap news agency said some members of Roh's National Security Council accused the foreign minister of leaning too much toward the United States.

Yoon defended the importance of the U.S. alliance, saying relations with Washington were ``very useful'' in resolving such issues the standoff with North Korea.

Yoon noted that the divided Koreas are still technically at war since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in a cease-fire and not a treaty.

``So far we have maintained peace (on the peninsula) through alliance (with the United States) and I had said the alliance was important as we are in a situation where complete peace between the two Koreas has not yet been achieved,'' he said. (emphasis added)

How strange of President Roh to speak of "kowtowing" and "equal footing" in the context of a hostile North Korea with which it is officially still not at peace and 37,000 American troops risking their lives along the DMZ; one might be forgiven for thinking that the risks of war with the DPRK were shared equally between the two countries, and the South Koreans were doing America a favor by allowing its' troops to be stationed on their soil. At times like this, one almost wishes the anti-American elements in South Korea could have their way, and the American military presence in the country could be withdrawn entirely, to leave them to get on with defending their own country unassisted.