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The ‘New Right’: How new is it?

Mar 13,2005
In Korean domestic politics, a so-called “New Right” movement is emerging, taking many of its policymaking cues from traditional conservatism while trying to shed its stodgy, corrupt image.
South Korea’s political camps have long been divided by sharply contrasting views on relations with the United States and North Korea. Conservative groups have generally been tough on North Korea (and pro-free market). Left-leaning groups were somewhat sympathetic toward the North and pushed reconciliation between the two.
Over the last several months, academics, lawyers, educators and religious leaders have formed groups with names such as the Liberty Union, Constitutional Forum, New Right Think-net, the Lawyers Group for Citizens and the Textbook Forum. These groups ― composed of academics and activists ― identify themselves as the “New Right,” which they say pursues new conservative political ideologies. Foremost in their values, they say, are free-market principles and individual freedom.
They argue for the importance of a strong relationship between the United States and South Korea, and are concerned about North Korea’s human rights situation.
They criticize President Roh Moo-hyun’s administration, which they regard as too leftist and unproductive, but also have disagreements with some groups further to the right, which they allege are corrupt and reactionary.
“The New Right is against the current administration, which possesses such characteristics of the ‘Old Left’ as being pro-North, anti-market and anti-liberty,” Shin Il-chul, a philosophy professor at Korea University, said at a lecture last month. “The New Right has a vision for reform and progress under the flag of liberty.”
Interestingly, New Right members include former left-leaning student activists.
Shin Ji-ho, a professor at Sogang University who leads the Liberty Union, was once involved in founding a socialist labor party in South Korea.
Hong Jin-pyo, also of the Liberty Union, was once arrested on charges of violating the National Security Law for unauthorized communication with North Korea.
But these figures are denouncing Marxist-Leninist philosophy and North Korea’s juche, or “self-reliance,” policy. Analysts said the emergence of the New Right is having a balancing effect.
“In past years, there have been growing voices from the progressive and liberal groups,” said Park Gil-sang, sociology professor at Korea University. “I also think the New Right is emerging due to the efforts of the nation’s conservative news media that want to support rightist groups. It is artificial rather than voluntary.”
In a JoongAng Ilbo poll of 117 university professors last month, about half said they supported the New Right movement. Around 30 percent said they supported it because it is a “reaction to the left-leaning phenomenon of society led by the government,” and around 12 percent said the New Right’s ideology “fits well into the politics and economy of Korea.”
The New Right movement stands in contrast to the traditional conservatism now represented by the Grand National Party. The new conservatives tend to view veterans’ groups and anti-North Korean activists as “nationalistic,” “pro-American” and “hierarchy-oriented”; in contrast, they say, they believe in openness and rationality. They do not blindly love America, they say, but rather want to “strategically use” the country for South Korea’s national interests.
“Old conservatives in Korea did not want to assume their social responsibility and only cared about their vested interest,” said Mr. Park at Korea University. “The New Right is different in that they try to take on social responsibilities. I think they are rational conservatives.”
Another marked difference between old and new conservatives is in their views on North Korea. Many older conservatives don’t accept North Korea as a legitimate nation. New Rightists recognize it as a separate country, but are vocal about the regime’s authoritarian rule and human rights abuses. They are also more open to the idea of amending the anti-communist National Security Law.
The conservative Grand National Party, which is struggling to reform itself, appears to welcome the emergence of the New Right. “The goals of the New Right correspond with the party’s vision for reform and advancement,” said lawmaker Park Hyoung-joon. “I think the New Right is a good political ideology for conservatives in the 21st century.”
But the governing Uri Party and the leftist Democratic Labor Party are skeptical of the movement. “The New Right appears to be makeshift,” said Roh Hoe-chan, a Democratic Labor Party lawmaker. “As it is not a genuine ideological group, it will not survive in the long term.”
According to the JoongAng Ilbo poll, academics who oppose the New Right question the movement’s ideological sincerity, arguing that it’s being used to promote the political aims of traditional conservative forces. Jun Sang-in, an academic who identifies himself as a New Right member, dismissed this criticism. “Nothing has been decided yet,” he said. “We have just started.”


by Min Seong-jae


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