With all the tumult in Europe and the Middle East and here at home, where will the next earth-shaking surprise erupt? How about Korea?
I don’t mean an outright attack by Communist North Korea, even if its dictator, Kim Jong Un, has been perfecting his A-bomb. What worries me is the whiff of revolution in South Korea.
Everyone has been worrying about the ability of a nuclear-armed Iran to cow its neighbors in the Middle East. What about the effect of a nuclear North Korea on the south?
First is the fall of President Park Geun-hye, the hard-line daughter of former President Park Chung-hee. She was impeached for corruption in December — a move upheld by the constitutional court this month — and arrested friday.
This was widely praised as a triumph of the rule of law. Maybe. The process, though, also included months in which hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets. Their message seemed to be: “Impeach her or else.”
A second astounding event is the indictment in February of the head of Samsung, Lee Jae-yong. Until he was hauled away in handcuffs ,Lee was among the most powerful Koreans.
Lee’s arrest is all the more dramatic because few companies anywhere boast a stature comparable to Samsung’s in Korea. It accounts for something on the order of 20 percent of the country’s GDP.
No one suggests the government should shrink from prosecuting corruption. Lee is charged with, among other crimes, bribery, embezzlement and perjury. (Lee denies the charges.)
But the indictment advances the agenda of the liberal critics of what are known as the chaebols. These are the giant, family-owned conglomerates that powered Korea’s economic miracle.
Lee was indicted only after the party in opposition to President Park was able to name a special prosecutor. Odds are that the opposition will go on to win the special presidential election set for May 9.
The front-runner is Moon Jae-in, of a progressive faction called the Minjoo Party of Korea. There is no viable contender to the right of Moon, a leftist lawyer who is pledging to “embrace” North Korea.
To me that spells nothing but trouble with a capital T.
I will never forget my first encounter with the last man to try this gambit, Kim Dae-jung. That was in 1979, when Kim was being held under house arrest by Park Geun-hye’s father.
Kim’s cramped bungalow featured busts of JFK and Lincoln and a painting of Jesus. The prisoner puffed a pipe, and talked of “democratic reunification” of the two Koreas. He struck me as naïve.
Kim had the last laugh, though, when he was swept to power in Korea’s 1998 election. He launched his “sunshine” policy of détente and economic engagement with the North Korean reds.
After scoring a meeting with Kim Jong Il, then North Korea’s “dear leader,” Kim Dae-jung won the Nobel Prize. Then came scandal, when it turned out that he’d siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars to North Korea.
This is something to remember as South Korea’s latest liberal — he’s way to the left of, say, Hillary Clinton — presses his campaign. He wants a “two-step” approach on North Korea.
Moon’s plan, Reuters reports, is to start with “economic unification” and move to the goal of “political and military unification.” It looks more radical than Kim Dae-jung’s plan.
One of the things we learned in the Cold War is that there can be no compromise with Communists. The social democrats learned that in Eastern Europe. We learned that in Vietnam.
How big a threat level is developing in Korea? It’s hard to gauge. But what’s clear is that the north isn’t the only Korea in turmoil. The south, too, is in a dangerous passage.
Its former president now sits in prison, awaiting trial, as does Samsung’s Lee. Neither has yet been found guilty of anything.
What bitter irony were the country to bow to the Communists only to have them acquitted in the end.
By seth lipsky