11 November 2008

A Seoul photo

From BBC's Day in Pictures, this photo shows a group of elderly South Korean men pressing the Obama and 2MB governments for a swift passage of the free trade agreement between their two nations, negotiated by their respective predecessors, W and Roh Moo-hyun.

These demonstrators claim that the agreement will strengthen the alliance between the two nations, jump-start the South Korean economy, and even make some South Korean industries that are threatened by the new US competition, notably agriculture and ranching, more competitive in the long run. They even claim that the leftists who oppose the agreement are simply anti-Americans taking orders from their North Korean buddies, a very common McCarthyist argument that carries a lot of weight back in the Korean-American community. In these guys' minds, I certainly qualify as an "anti-American pro-North leftist," but in reality, I love and care for America far more than these bastards, who supported the vicious McCain-Palin campaign and all the racist crap spewed against Obama, ever will.

And indeed, 2MB's ruling majority Grand National Party, which had stated that any kind of a trade agreement with the US is an honor, is doing everything to ensure a swift ratification of the agreement. The Democrats, the Democratic Labors, and other liberal opposition parties are united in their opposition, and certainly look forward to Obama's campaign promises to review the agreement for any unfair clauses to either side. The media here in South Korea always shows blatant support when it comes to reporting the ratification of the agreement.

Obama is correct, however. The free trade agreement, as it stands now, is full of flaws, notably the failure of the US government and media to even discuss it with the American people. Until that is done, and there is a consensus among the American people, I will never support free trade between the two nations. I do support free trade in principle, as I do believe that it benefits both suppliers and customers in the long run, and also stimulates cultural and other exchanges; however, free trade does not mean giving away one's sovereignty and control in some economic matters, something that the Grand Nationals never seem to realize. Surely, many South Korean farmers and ranchers will be put out of business by the agreement, and 2MB must ensure that other industries will benefit, and that those who are put out of business by the free trade agreement will have some other way to make a living and contribute to the economy.

Most importantly, 2MB and the Grand Nationals must remember that the US is not a benevolent Confucian older brother nation looking out for South Korea's best interests at all times; this is a role that the US cannot, and will not, play. The US has its own interests to defend, which happens to coincide with many of South Korea's own interests for the time being, and there is nothing more to it. For 2MB to continue submitting to the US like a lowly cut-rate colony will serve no good, for the vast majority of South Koreans and for just about all Americans. It must be remembered that in this volatile region known as East Asia, America needs, and wants, a strong strategic partner, not a colony. 2MB's attitude certainly benefits no one, except for the aging McCarthyist paranoids like the photo above and the now-disgraced US Republican neocons.

Last, but not the least, free trade or not, the US and South Korea will continue to buy each other's products as long as they are competitive in price and quality. My decision to buy a Hyundai Genesis is the case in point. The decision, both to retire my BMW and to replace it with a Hyundai, is partly political, but it certainly would not have happened if the Genesis weren't a top-notch car at a very reasonable price. Samsung and LG dominate the US HDTV and cell phone markets for the exact same reasons. And conversely, America does a great job of moving Microsoft and other IT products, particularly software, over here in South Korea, because they are competitive. American cars will also surely sell much better in South Korea - and improve the bottom lines of GM, Ford, Chrysler, and UAW - if they become more fuel-efficient, higher-quality, and more competitive; they need to let engineers, not marketers, call the shots with future cars, and take a lesson from what Hyundai did with the Genesis. Both Obama and 2MB agree with me on this; Obama vows to help the US automakers and protect UAW jobs, but on the condition that they start building more fuel-efficient, more competitive cars.