President Roh being increasingly critisized for KorUS FTA

Original Publication Date: 
22 August, 2006

"Regardless of fierce nation-wide protests, I will dedicate my remaining time in office to realizing the FTA." These words encapsulate the attitude that has seen South Korean President Roh Mu-Hyun and his government become increasingly defensive and isolated in power. An editorial in the July 8th Hangyoreh newspaper argued: "The government cannot persuade the people with abstract rhetoric that the nation's social systems and international competitivness will be enhanced, nor can it persudae them by gathering data favorable to its stance. The government did not publicly disclose the results of the first and second round of negotiations. Under such circumstances, it would be public deception for the government to say that it would "collect opinions from every walk of life" and reflect those opinions at the negotiation table."

The President who was once seen as a progressive independent leader by many had been able to forge a legitimacy amonst wide sectors of population, social movements, civil society, intellectuals and the media. However, these forces are becoming increasingly distant towards the regime and its various policies as the concensus that it attempted to build between various social forces is being ripped apart from the deepening social polarisation of South Korean neo-liberalism. Recently on July 12th, 50 000 demonstrators gathered in front of Seoul City Hall Plaza in an anti-FTA rally organised by the Korean Alliance against the KorUS FTA. The "participatory" regime of Roh Mu-Hyun which had earlier promised to only precede with the FTA after consulting with all sectors of society answered the dissent by sending in riot police to beat protestors and block them from staging a press release voicing their opinions.

However, the decreasing popularity of the proposed FTA with the US government has even seen many former advisors and high profile intellectuals who had given public support to or even serve in various government positions, desert the President.

Kim Yon-oak, a well known social commentator and oriental philospher in South Korea, who led the public opposition campaign to the Grand National Party's attempted inditement of the President attacked the President's persistence with the FTA negotiations arguing he didn't "understand why South Korea has to seek the FTA while there is nothing it can from it." Even openly pro-government intellectuals such as Jung Tae-in and Lee Joung-woo, a former presidential secretary for economic affairs and special advisor to President Roh respectively have become harsh critics of the President and have publicly thrown their support behind the anti-FTA campaign. The government has also been coming into a confrontation with layers of the media over their critical reporting of the FTA. When Roh first came to office he publicly thanked the role of the media in his rise to power wondering " Could I have become the President without the help of the press" while attending a Korean Broadcas! ting Service reception.

However more recently his opinions have changed, claiming that "These days, egoism in broadcasting companies, employees and labour unions is at the core and there is no suitable way to remedy it." President Roh and a number of his advisors were also very critical of documentaries that MBC and KBS television stations had broadcasted on the FTA issue. He also threatened to legally sanction other media sources over thier reporting of the issue especially when they reported Roh's remarks that the FTA was needed to maintain the strong political and military alliance between the US and South Korea. However as the growing polarisation continues to deepen in South Korean society so will the legitimacy of this once very popular President continue to crumble as did his predecessors who also implemented the neo-liberalism in South Korea.