South Korea: Post-Presidency Prosecution

On 6 April 2018, former president of the Republic of Korea, Park Geun Hye, was sentenced to 24 years of imprisonment as she was found guilty of the abuse of power and coercion. On 9 April 2018, Lee Myung Bak has been indicted on 16 charges including; bribery, abuse of power, embezzlement, breach of trust, tax evasion, and violations of the election and presidential records laws. The arrest of a former president is not uncommon in South Korea, Lee Myung Bak is the 4th former president to have been arrested for corruption charges.

It may be more beneficial to prosecute presidents after they have left office as they would not be able to directly use their position and power to influence investigation efforts.

Although it is not a flattering image for South Korea to often be troubled by corruption. Of course; it would be better for the government to prevent these crimes from happening in the first place. Nonetheless, the ability to prosecute someone in such a high position of power is never an easy task.

In my opinion, the most incredible phenomenon in South Korean politics is the prosecution of incumbent and former presidents. Despite the frequency of the arrest of presidents, it is a good indication that South Korea has an operational democracy that is effective because those in the highest position of power are held accountable for their actions.

Sources:

https://thediplomat.com/2018/03/lee-myung-bak-between-justice-and-political-retribution-in-south-korea/

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-43666134

http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2018/04/356_246983.html

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When is it appropriate to talk about politics?

This has been the question on my mind for a long time.

As I was growing up, I quickly realized that Thailand is not a place where you can openly talk about your political views. I grew up in a tumultuous time in Thai politics when there was an extreme political division to the extent that it was even dangerous to talk about politics in public space because you might get into fights with people who disagreed with you. My parents told me multiple times not to talk or ask about politics in public because they feared that some people might overhear us and it might spark an argument. I have also been advised that I should not talk about politics with my friends because it can ruin our friendships.

It’s too often that I hear the phrase, “let’s not talk about politics right now, it’s a sensitive topic”. So, when is it appropriate to talk about politics? To whom can I talk to about politics?

After living in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, I have come to realize that this is not so much of a problem in these two countries. As politics students, my friends and I often exchange political memes and tag each other interesting political news even we had different political views. I was able to have political conversations with my non-Thai friends. I was able to openly ask them for information or clarification about a certain topic and to have a proper discussion about the different points of view, without getting into an argument.

As a politics student who was educated in the liberal Western academic system, I strongly value civil political discussions and I believe that it is important to have political discussions even when people have different opinions.

From what I have seen and experienced, I do not think that the limited political discussion in Thailand is not only due to the government’s censorship and promotion of unity, but because the people have accepted the narrative that ‘different’ is ‘disunity’. In the time of political division, the government and the media promoted the idea of unity which was equated to ‘let’s not talk about the thing that divides us’ i.e. politics. In my opinion, different does not mean disunity and what causes trouble is not the difference of opinions but people’s inability to try to understand or sympathize with the person to whom they talk. If you do not try to understand the thought process of the other person, you will continue to think that your opinion is the only right one and that is dangerous. For me, political conversations among citizens are not for them to arrive at an agreement but to learn more about the different viewpoints for them to better develop their own srance. This is particularly important for democratic societies, it would allow people to make better-informed decisions in local or general elections. It is when people don’t try to understand that they begin to demean each other and that is when a discussion turns into a nasty argument.

There is a difference between having arguing and debating. When I was younger, I thought a debate was just people arguing but that is not the case. Debating involves the presentation of opinion and supporting evidence in a polite manner but arguing may not. It is important to make this distinction, it is possible for people to engage in a political discussion and have a debate without arguing with one another but there needs to a mutual understanding in this regard. People need to understand that we do not have to constantly convince other people of our position but to communicate our opinion and to try to understand other point of views.

People’s opinions differ because no two people can share the exact same life experiences or emotions. The difference will always exist. The most important thing is not to turn a political discussion or debate into an argument.

Is the Trump presidency really unusual?

I have recently read an article about how many households in the US are divided because of the difference of political opinion, especially between parents and their children, during Donald Trump’s presidency. The phenomena of the Trump presidency, particularly political division, extreme partisanship, and abuse of power, are not uncommon in many countries around the world. Nonetheless, I think that the world is surprised to see that those things are happening in the US because the US has always presented itself as a democracy with a stable government. What I am trying to say is that what is happening in the US can be surprising for many Americans because they have never been in such political climate. The problems that they are experiencing right now are not uncommon in other countries where there are unconsolidated democracies, illiberal democracies, or authoritarianism.

As a Thai citizen, the talk of political division, extreme partisanship, and the abuse of power is all too common. Thaksin Shinawatra’s government has had a very significant impact on modern Thai politics. Thaksin’s administration caused a significant political divide in Thailand because there were those who agreed and benefited from his policies and there were those who were losing power as a result of the unprecedented support for Thaksin. No matter which side you were on, it was unarguably the most divisive time in modern Thai political history. People were divided by the color of the shirts that they wore. Who knew the color of clothing could matter so much. The stories of how family members would not talk to each other because of the difference of their political opinion were not unusual.

Some of my family members chose their side. What I experienced was not the conflict of opinion but the dominance of one opinion that was perpetuated by the continued consumption of news from just one source, one biased source. There was so much derogatory name calling of those on the other side. At that time I did not really understand what was going on, all I knew was that I was annoyed of all the protests and I was only concerned about being able to go to school and getting home safely. Thailand’s political situation between 2006 and 2008 was one of many reasons that I chose to study political science in university.

The political division since the fall of Thaksin has continued until today. Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s younger sister, was elected prime minister in 2012. It was clear that there were a lot of people who believed in Thaksin’s policies and ideas and wanted someone to continued his vision. However, her administration ended when the military carried out a coup d’etat to end the political stalemate and Thailand still has a military government.

I agree with Trevor Noah who has comically but rightly described Donald Trump as an African dictator even before Donald Trump became president. Trevor pointed out that Donald Trump’s political style is very similar to that of many African leaders which goes to show that the Trump presidency is not that unusual.

Many outsiders would believe that it was impossible for Donald Trump to be elected president in the first place, let alone the absurd allegations of wrongdoing that has plagued the administration since he took office. I had the perception that the US holds itself to a high standard when it comes to domestic politics because the previous presidents have been competent and have represented the US adequately. It’s a shame that this no longer the case. Many countries around the world might have despised the US for its international political endeavors, now the world’s perception of the US has deteriorated as they can no longer trust the leader of the most powerful country in the world.

In conclusion, the current US government and politics now has the characteristics that are common to many other countries around the world. The current US political climate may come to a surprise of many because it is different from the previous presidencies. However, it is not so different from that of many other countries around the world.

Donald & Shinzo

The US president’s recent visit to Japan was rather interesting, not only because of the Trump’s behavior but because of Abe’s hospitality; the leaders together fed some koi and played golf. Abe also gifted Trump with a white hat that had the message “Donald & Shinzo, Make Alliance Even Greater” written in golden letters. Pikotaro, the performer of”Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen”, was also invited to perform for the US president. These activities have created such a jovial milieu for the bilateral relations.

It can be suggested that Abe does not think very highly of Trump. Abe understands how he could communicate with Trump effectively which is not through long winded official statements but through publicity acts of hat signing, playing golf, and feeding fish. Aren’t these activities juvenile? In my opinion, Abe’s attempt to cater to Trump’s preferences was done in the interest of Japan’s bilateral relationship with the US rather than any favorable view of Abe towards Trump. Abe is an experienced leader that have had to deal with many national and international crises which he has dealt with great competency, it is difficult to imagine that he would view Trump favorably considering his unhinged remarks on international politics. It seems that Abe is trying to make the most out of the Trump presidency and improve bilateral relation by pleasing the US president. All that Abe can do is to maintain good personal relations with Trump in the hope that Trump would not act abruptly against the interest of Japan, especially in the time of high-tension with North Korea.

In recent years, Abe has attempted to improve Japan’s national security by suggesting constitutional amendment to validate and potentially expand the Self Defense Forces (SDF) in a full fledged military. This demonstrates Abe’s concern about Japan’s security with growing threat from North Korea and China. A stronger Japan could mean less burden for the US provision of military force and Trump’s America first policy would benefit from burden-sharing.

On the other hand, it has been suggested President Trump’s treatment of PM Abe as deferential. Actually we have seen Trump’s attempts to exert his dominance in many other occasions with his long and awkward handshakes. In this case, although Trump may feel that he is exerting his dominance effectively, Abe’s method of accommodating to Trump’s preferences is a way to pursue Japan’s interests.

In a time of such unpredictability, it appears that Abe would attempt to minimize risks and maintain security by improving its relations with the US.

A quick thought on ‘Repeal & Replace Obamacare’

Although I am not an expert on the US health care system, the reason that the Republican Party has given for repealing the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, is very concerning. Not only have the politicians altered the very definition of health insurance, they have been trying to encourage the people to act selfishly.

The politicians are making the argument that the young and healthy should not be paying for the health of ill and old people. Moreover, they have not considered that one day, these young people will grow old and would benefit from the existing health care system. The argument undermines the concept of social capital in which the citizens trust each other and that their contribution to the state would be reciprocated through the redistribution of health care and other public services.

In political science, there is the concept of social capital which refers to the trust and reciprocity in a society that is the result of interactions of citizens through civil societies. The American scholar, Robert Putnam, have written about the decline of American social capital and argued that it was due to the decline in engagement in civil societies with the individualization of leisure activities. Although the Republican’s argument for the repeal of Obamacare is not necessarily undermining the social capital pertaining to civil society and political engagement, it is undermining the sense of trust and reciprocity that is needed for the citizens’ contribution to the continuation of the health care system. The concept of social capital was developed by a French scholar, Alexis de Toqueville, in the 19th century as a result of his study of the US democracy. It is ironic that hundreds of years later, the US is walking backwards and defying the core of its democracy.

The North Korea Issue

In the past few months, North Korea has been displaying its offensive capabilities. This demonstrates the failure of the international community to halt or hinder North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. The recent testing of the hydrogen bomb has upstaged the meet of leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa or the BRICS meeting in China. The test has stolen the thunder from the high-level conference of world powers. This testing seems to demonstrate North Korea’s attempt to come out from China’s shadow and to distract other states from the BRICS meeting in China. More importantly, it demonstrates that North Korea is challenging the US and it does not fear the potential repercussions. Moreover, the ability for North Korea to acquire an H-bomb demonstrates the ineffectiveness of economic sanctions. A North Korean defector has revealed that goods can be easily smuggled into North Korea through its border with China which has rendered the economic sanctions ineffective.

North Korea’s recent provocations have evoked strong condemnation from China and Russia. Hopefully, North Korea’s recent actions would finally motivate China to respond more forcefully. It is clear that none of the major powers in the region would want to destabilize the Korean Peninsula. However, the deterioration of the relations between the US and the South Korean president is not conducive to the situation. At this point, both the US and South Korea cannot afford to be in disagreement. It is important that there is a uniform response by the US and South Korea. President Moon Jae In has sought to improve relations with North Korea to reduce the motivation for North Korea to develop its offensive capability. On the other hand, President Trump seems to be in favor of a strong response that may involve a military response. Despite South Korea’s reliance on the US, a pre-emptive military response would put South Korea in danger.

China and Russia agree that the stakeholders in the region should engage in dialogue with North Korea and reduce military activity that would provoke North Korea to respond violently. This seems to be a logical response to the reversal of the security dilemma and avoid conflict. On the other hand, from the realist perspective, how can we expect South Korea, Japan, and the US to stand down when they are threatened by the nuclear threat from North Korea? Moreover, if we consider domestic politics, would it be possible for the government to stand back and let the people perceive the government as being unable to protect its own population and reduce support. However, the recent protest against the life fire military practice and the deployment the missile defense system in front of the US military base in South Korea is a demonstration of public opinion that is against agonizing North Korea.

It is possible that the increase in North Korea military activity was due to the weakened position of the US with the chaos of the US politics and the disparaging relationship between President Trump and other world leaders. The disarray of the Trump administration might put international security in jeopardy. It is clear that President Trump does not have a firm grasp of the issue. We can only hope that the generals at the Pentagon would exercise their best judgment and prevent the destabilization of the region.

Russia has also been active in its response to the North Korea issue and has been in discussion with South Korea. It is surprising to think that the South Korea would be talking to an enemy of the US on the issue of North Korea. This further demonstrates the rising position of Russia as the US is becoming more unreliable. Moreover, the US president has attacked South Korea for its response to North Korea and wrongly accused South Korea for engaging in appeasement with North Korea. South Korea simply wants to engage in peaceful settlement of the issue rather than being involved in military action that the US president seems to have suggested. More recently, at the UN General Assembly, President Trump’s remarks about North Korea and Kim Jong Un has only exacerbated the situation.

The North Korean nuclear issue is one that cannot be solved unilaterally but by the engagement of stakeholders in the region. It is apparent that economic sanctions have not been effective thus, there needs to be an alternative solution that does not antagonize North Korea to increase their provocations. This issue is a complex one not only because of the disastrous consequences but because of the nature of the relationships of the stakeholders. South Korea and Japan are US allies but they do not get along. On the other hand, China and Russia are major challengers of US power. Consequently, an agreement on a solution can be difficult to achieve given the nature of the current world politics. We can only hope that these states would be able to cooperate based on this common threat.

 

The Most Powerful Man In The World

Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, is the most powerful man in the world. Although the US is the most powerful state in the world when considering its military capability and economic wealth, the developments with regards to the Russian meddling in the 2016 elections has made the leading position of the president of the US more questionable.

If Putin ordered the interference of the 2016 US presidential election then it would mean that he was able to influence the most powerful state, which would place him as the most powerful man in the world. Moreover, if the allegations of the Russian interactions with people from the Trump administration/campaign are true,  his government’s connections with the Trump administration would make it easier for him to influence the US in his favor. In this case, to be the most powerful leader in the world, one does not need to be the leader of the most powerful country but one that can influence the decisions of the most powerful country. In addition, the ability for Russia to cause the people of the US and the rest of the world to question the US democratic system and the ability of a foreign power to interfere in the democratic process, the US position of power in the international arena would be diminished.

On the other hand, the disarray in the Trump administration has weakened the US’ position in the world and thus allowing Russia to be more dominant in the international arena. Putin and his government have interfered in US domestic politics to give it advantage in the international arena and for Putin to emerge as the most powerful leader.

Despite, Putin’s authoritarian tendencies, one must admit that he knows how to play politics. Throughout his career, he has devised ways to strategically gain and maintain power. He truly understands how to use his power in the most effective way to gain even more power. Unlike other tyrannical leaders, Putin keeps his composure and does not appear to be an erratic leader. More importantly, he does not take his position of power lightly. He has a strong sense of conviction and a clear vision of how he wants to position Russia in the world.

If the Trump administration continues on this trajectory, it would allow Russia to gain a stronger position in the international arena and continue its occupation of Ukraine and its involvement in Syria. More importantly, Putin will continue to be the most powerful leader in the world.