The formidable truckers’ strike in South Korea came to an end after a tentative agreement was struck after late-night negotiations on Tuesday, June 14. Truck drivers returned to work on Wednesday after the deal approving the key demands put forward by the union was approved by the nation’s transport ministry. Organized by Cargo Truckers Solidarity Union, thousands of truck drivers were on an indefinite strike from June 7, bringing all ports and movement of crucial industrial goods and major exports to a standstill. Truckers were demanding government intervention to arrest the rising fuel prices and inflation. They had also demanded a significant pay hike and a guarantee towards continuance of the minimum wage rule that was introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hyundai Motor is struggling to move finished cars so it can make more cars, while more than half of the country's ready-mix concrete factories have suspended operations due to a halt in the shipment of cement. Unionized truck drivers have been on a strike since Tuesday demanding higher wages and an extension of support measures, which expire at the end of this year. They blocked gates at distribution centers and refused to transport cargo. Cargo Truckers Solidarity, a union, is leading of strike, and more than 7,000 people are participating, according to local media reports. About one-third of all unionized truckers have joined in, though the number varied by the day. The truck drivers and the government have been negotiating all weekend but have so far failed reach a compromise.
Amid heavy security, hundreds of South Koreans gathered in front of a hotel where U.S. President Joe Biden was staying in Seoul to protest against the president's visit. People crowded in front of the Grand Hyatt Seoul hotel, near the presidential office, in the Yongsan district of Seoul, where Biden stayed during his state visit to the Asian country, which ended on Sunday. The discomfort over the presence of Biden is due to the fact that it will fuel tensions and the war on the Korean peninsula, according to analysts consulted by the local press. The U.S. president arrived in Seoul on Friday as part of a tour of South Korea and Japan to address various issues, including tensions on the Korean peninsula.
On January 15, a coalition of workers across South Korea — rural farmers, the urban poor and laborers — will gather in downtown Seoul for a National All-People’s Mobilization, in a protest expected to reach large numbers. Since October, workers have mobilized to demand better conditions, broader labor protections and policies, and structural reforms ahead of the forthcoming presidential and local elections of 2022 (in March and June respectively). The South Korean government has used pandemic restrictions to regulate and limit the right to public assembly, claiming without sufficient evidence that such mobilizations increase Covid-19 infection rates. Labor leaders say more than 100 labor organizers are under investigation since the October general strike, and many have been arrested
In a major development in the Korean peace process, South Korea, North Korea, China and the United States have agreed to declare an end to the Korean War. The announcement was made by South Korean president Moon Jae-in on Monday, December 13, who said the four parties to the Korean War agreed “in-principle” to formally declare its end, 71 years after it broke out in 1950. Speaking from Canberra, Australia, during his four-day visit to the country, president Moon Jae-in also pointed out that US hostility towards North Korea was among the reasons why peace talks were held back. North Korea has demanded an end to the “hostile policy” of the US, including sweeping sanctions and a virtual US-led blockade, as a precondition for the continuation of talks.
General Chun Doo Hwan was the corrupt military dictator that ruled Korea from 1979-1988, before handing off the presidency to his co-conspirator General Roh Tae Woo. Chun took power in a coup in 1979, and during his presidency he perpetrated the largest massacre of Korean civilians since the Korean war. He died on November 23rd, in pampered, sybaritic luxury, impenitent and arrogant to the very last breath. Many western media outlets have written censorious, chest-beating accounts of his despotic governance and the massacres he perpetrated (here, here, here, and here)-- something they rarely bothered to do when he was actively perpetrating them in broad daylight before their eyes.
Today, South Korea ranks third in highest annual working hours and as of 2015 it was third in workplace deaths among member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Over 40 percent of all workers are considered “irregular workers.” As in the U.S., many of these irregular workers labor in the gig economy, beholden to tech giants’ apps. With an economy and society dominated by corporate conglomerates known as chaebol, South Korean people face increasingly bleak prospects. The top 10 percent of earners claimed 45 percent of total income in 2016, real estate speculation has led to a housing crisis, and privatization in education and health care are expanding disparities. As South Korea undergoes blowback from the effects of COVID-19 on the global economy, these crises have only sharpened.
International Organizations Urge Biden Administration To Suspend US-South Korea Joint Military Exercises
On Wednesday, a statement endorsed by 110 U.S., 197 South Korean, and 80 international civil society organizations was sent to the Biden administration urging the suspension of annual combined military exercises with South Korea in order to restart diplomacy with North Korea. In the statement, the groups note these “costly and highly provocative war exercises” — which are based on operation plans that reportedly include pre-emptive strikes and “decapitation measures” against the North Korean leadership — heighten military and political tensions on the Korean Peninsula. As such, they are a major obstacle to a peaceful resolution of the ongoing 70-year-old Korean War.
The friendly interplay last week between Moon Jae-in, the president of South Korea, and Joe Biden, the incoming president of the United States, signaled subtle but important differences about how to make peace with a nuclear-armed North Korea. On Thursday, Moon, who has made engagement with the North the hallmark of his presidency, followed other world leaders in congratulating Biden for his election victory. In a 14-minute telephone call, he pledged to “communicate closely” with Biden’s incoming administration “for a forward-looking development of the alliance, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of lasting peace.”
Tensions between the two Koreas escalated again last month after a South Korean fisheries official, possibly attempting to defect, was shot dead by North Korean army troops after he swam across their disputed maritime border known as the Northern Limit Line. A shocked President Moon Jae-in, who has made engagement with North Korea the centerpiece of his administration, demanded an explanation. Some US “experts” boldly predicted that North Korea had killed off Moon’s peace initiative. Within days, however, the tables were turned. On September 25th, Kim made an unprecedented public apology to South Korea for the “unsavory” killing, which he admitted (rightly) had “delivered a big disappointment” to the people of the South.”
But this is a false dichotomy. Meeting or not meeting with the North Korean leader hasn’t been the failure of U.S. policy. And more pressure and sanctions will not convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons arsenal. To make any substantial progress, the next administration must take a wholly new approach to achieve a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. Most urgently, the next administration should officially end the Korean War with a peace agreement. Contrary to the belief held by most Americans, the 70-year-old war never officially ended and was only halted by a fragile ceasefire signed in 1953.
To understand today’s Japan, visit its central part, urban and rural, and you will understand how deep the rot under Abe was. Outside cities like Suzuka or Yokkaichi in Mie Prefecture, rice fields and bamboo forests are dotted with rotting carcasses of cars. Many houses are in disrepair. The bus lines are abandoned. Main roads are lined up with unhealthy fast food joints, not unlike those in the US suburbia. Many public playgrounds for children are unmaintained or gone. A once-glorious cultural life has been decaying, even before the Covid-19 pandemic. Huge cultural centers, once the pride of the country, are mostly empty, with tall grass growing between the buildings. Blue tents of homeless people are pitched in almost all public parks of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and other major cities.
Perhaps it’s time for South Korea, then, to assert more independence and become a master of its own fate. Above all, that will require a reconsideration of the military alliance with the United States. From a military point of view, South Korea doesn’t need the presence of U.S. troops on the peninsula. They serve a largely symbolic function as a concrete sign of U.S. commitment. At some point, after the resolution of ongoing negotiations, South Korea will assume full operational control of military forces. After years of arms imports, South Korea’s hardware advantage gives it a vast military superiority over the North. The United States has been an obstacle in the way of improving inter-Korean relations. And it has forced a partnership with Tokyo that Seoul finds uncomfortable. On top of that, South Korea periodically worries that it will be drawn into the conflict between Washington and Beijing.
On May 28th, 2020, "The Ministry of National Defense and the USFK (United States Forces in Korea) engaged in a transportation operation in the middle of the night to bring equipment to the Seongju THAAD [missile defense] system in Gyeong sang buk do [Province]. The Ministry of National Defense said that it supported the land transportation operation by the USFK from the night of the 28th to the morning of the 29th. The work was said to have ended at 6 am" This stealth operation in the middle of the night was nevertheless challenged by the residents of the area. 3700 South Korean riot police had to be deployed as a phalanx to cordon off the roads to enable the operation and to prevent obstruction of the transport. Several residents were reported to have been injured during the clash between local residents and the police.
The timing of this failure to negotiate terms with an ally coincides with the apparent failure to provide any concessions to Washington’s adversary on the Korean peninsula. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un gave the US until the end of the year to provide some concessions from the sanction regime, in order for work on denuclearization to continue. In recent weeks, however, Pyongyang has said that denuclearization is no longer on the table due to Washington undertaking no steps whatsoever to facilitate the situation. Thus, if Seoul and Washington fail to reach an agreement, and the US troops are pulled out, this could actually lead to a quicker settlement of the issues on the Korean peninsula.