Thursday, May 29, 2008

Beef Protests? um, okay...

Now that I finally have CNN on TV again* I'm back to my habit of keeping the news on while I'm at home.

While eating dinner CNN aired a report by Sohn Jie-ae, their Seoul Bureau Chief, which was about the beef protests going on here in Seoul.

I heard about this from a friend who teaches in a Korean high school here. He was telling me that teachers have been stirring up their students to go out and protest. Back home parents would be irate to have their kids being stirred into a frenzy like that. However, here, this has been very successful and you can read about it in more detail at Korea Beat.

This past Monday, I revisited my old route home from Ewha Womans University's back gate to my apartment. This route takes me through protest-central in Seoul. It's protest-central because it's in the Gwanghwamun area of the city which has the US Embassy, many government offices, Seoul City Hall and it's near the Blue House which is the South Korean president's residence. When I passed through the area it was packed with riot police, so I knew something was up. I just didn't know it was over beef imports.

Sohn Jie-ae reported that Korean students here are protesting because some believe that their family and friends will "die eating US beef."

The pending resumption of U.S. beef imports hasn't been without political costs for President Lee Myung-bak. He apologized to the nation last week for failing to fully understand concerns about mad cow disease.

In downtown Seoul, thousands of people have regularly staged protests, chanting "We don't want crazy cows," since the deal to revive beef imports was announced.
In addition, Sohn's report as mentioned that instead of serving ox intestines these days restaurants here are serving pig intestines instead.**

I just think it's interesting because it's a topic I got to study my last term at Ewha's GSIS. I won't get into the details of it, but it's interesting to see it played out as both governments take steps to try to get closer to implementing free trade agreement negotiated between South Korea and the US last year.

More links:
S. Korea leader 'baffled' by mad cow fears
Hundreds in Seoul protest U.S. beef

*My cable provider, Yongsan Cable,. switched to digital cable a few weeks ago. However, I've not been home a lot lately, so getting the new digital cable box has been impossible until they happened to catch me at home this past Saturday afternoon (yeah!!!)

**Now you might be grossed out by that, but Soul food and southern cuisine has chitterlings, which is cooked intestines, so it doesn't freak me out at all. So, it's interesting and both funny to be that there is a Korean variation of Soul food here in Seoul ;)

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  1. MBC published some false facts a few weeks ago: Koreans have a genetic weakness against Mad Cow Disease; the U.S. uses downer cow meat only in export, and exported meat is subject to less inspection; there are already deaths in Korea linked to the disease. In the Korea Times this week, a piece refuting these claims and generally downplaying the anti-U.S. hysteria (which could likely kill the KORUS FTA) still reported that there is a 1% chance of beef imported from the U.S. has Mad Cow Disease. At this rate, the Korean public will forever be caught in nationalism, rumor, and an uncompetitive economy.

  2. Yeah, I heard about the genetic weakness stuff. It was so left field that I just ignored it, but Koreans seem to have bought it.

    Are they serious to allege that the US only uses downer cow meat or that it just gets sent out? The US economy relies on its exports too.

    Honestly, I've not been tapped into the story much and the anger that I'm feeling is probably why.

  3. What I can't seem to understand is some of these protestors can protest importation of beef but have no problem drinking Starbucks or eating at Mcdonald's or buying American clothes.

    I am like if you're going to protest do it all the way. Like someone was saying Koreans need to be less concerned with Mad Cow Disease and more concerned with Stomach Cancer which seems to be very prevalant in Koreans. I would figure cancer would be a more serious issue than some contrived idea of US beef.

  4. "Like someone was saying Koreans need to be less concerned with Mad Cow Disease and more concerned with Stomach Cancer which seems to be very prevalant in Koreans."

    LOL...that would require a shift from nationalism and a mob mentality to critical thinking. Honestly, I don't think it will happen anytime soon. I asked one class of mine when I first started if something was published in a newspaper or was on the TV news did they think it was true? Most of them said "yes." I freaked out and knew right then I was going to have issues here to some degree. Being critical of what you're fed isn't something that's encouraged here. If it was there would be a vigorous debate over beef and food prices in general instead of mobs protesting.

  5. Korea has gotten away with spitting on trade agreements for too long. I say we initiate “Operation Total Dick.” Everyone should call up their local repress in the States and ask them to temporarily ban the import of Korean goods until they uphold their end of the bargain. Let's give the Korean left what it wants, and see how they like it.

    I thought protesters in the states were pretty silly at times, but they have nothing on the stupidity I see in the streets of Seoul.

  6. "Operation Total Dick" seems to be misnamed in my opinion.

    It's not spy games but diplomacy ;-) Koreans seem to forget they have an export based economy. After the Korean War the US essentially opened its markets and the markets of its allies to Korean goods. I don't care how much you produce, if there is nowhere to sell the products your economy isn't going anywhere. Koreans sometimes lack perspective on this issue.

    As for beef, blocking Korean imports for awhile doesn't seem to be a bad idea at all.

  7. “"Operation Total Dick" seems to be misnamed in my opinion.”

    It does lack maturity, but oh how it rolls off the tongue!

    What I find so unfortunate about this whole incident is how the United States has not made a very clear message that we will simply renege on trade deals with Korea if they do not uphold theirs. We should have had our chief diplomat get on Korean TV and make explain to Korea that there will be financial repercussions for their actions. Some may see that as a threat, and they wouldn’t be wrong in calling it such. But that’s how the diplomatic game is played. The US isn’t just a gravy train to kick around.

    On one hand, a lot of these protesters are kids and don’t know a damn thing to begin with. So I doubt they will think of the financial problems with banning American beef. But the media should have to report what it means if they do, and we as Americans should make it at every turn.

  8. Well, the name is very immature, but it's also not a military or intelligence issue, so the "operation" term did get to me just on that alone.

    I just think it's an issue of a lack of history and perspective. It's not that Korea should or ought to be made to submit to the big and bad USA. I'm sure some are spinning it that way. But their officials made a deal with our officials.

    I think the bottom line is this, and correct me if I'm wrong. Neither side has ratified this trade agreement. It will come up as an issue when that time comes and the opponents to it will definitely bring this up as a reason not to okay it.

    This is just putting a preliminary nail in the coffin on this deal ever happening.

  9. I advocate that every American mail their congressman or congresswomen and demand that they consider putting up trade restrictions against Korea if they renege on the beef agreement. In that sense, I want it to be an operation.

  10. Well, first Americans would have to know and then care about the issue. I've written on it, you have, the Marmot's Hole has and some news networks are covering it.

    Even for issues we do know about, it's still hard to get people to act. Right now people seem to be more consumed with high gas prices than even the illegal war we're involved in. (and, in my opinion, gas should have been high years ago to discourage Americans from using so much gas...we use a high % of it.)

    So maybe with a few people writing their reps about it that will be enough.


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